Coronavirus in Utah: Record-high hospitalizations have almost all ICU beds filled

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Taylor Woodrow tests patients for COVID-19 at the Intermountain Healthcare Cottonwood InstaCare on Friday, Dec. 4, 2020.

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The COVID-19 outlook across Utah is not getting better, and there remains plenty of room for it to get worse.

The Utah Department of Health reported 2,563 new cases Sunday. With that, the seven-day period beginning Nov. 30 and ending Sunday brought 21,598 new cases. The total number of positive cases since the pandemic began sits at 215,407.

Those numbers are troublesome, but other numbers pertaining to deaths, current hospitalizations and positivity rate may paint a grimmer picture.

About 91% of all intensive care unit beds in the state are in use, while 96.5% of ICU beds in key referral hospitals are taken up. Referral hospitals are the ones specializing in COVID-19, like University Hospital in Salt Lake City and Intermountain Medical Center in Murray.

This week saw the most COVID-19 patients hospitalized, with the 603 reported Saturday, representing the first time current hospitalizations rose above 600. That number actually dropped Sunday to 595, which was the third-highest number reported for this seven-day period. The state reported 597 hospitalizations Thursday.

Seventy-one people died over the first six days of the seven-day period. No new deaths were reported Sunday, leaving Utah’s total number dead since the start of the pandemic at 939. The state is on pace to hit 1,000 COVID-related deaths later this week.

The positivity rate topped 25% for the first time earlier this week. The seven-day rolling positivity rate as of Sunday was a pandemic-high 26.6%. The seven-day average for new positive tests is 3,077 per day.

With roughly 1 in 4 COVID-19 tests coming back positive, it is important to note that the full impact of Thanksgiving and the accompanying holiday weekend may not be felt just yet. Social gatherings focused around the holiday may still lead to a new surge of cases in the state. Despite that, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said he was not considering any further restrictions on get-togethers, even with COVID-related numbers rising to alarming levels.

“The next 45 to 60 days will be critical,” Herbert said Thursday. “We’re on the uptick now, and we can’t let our guard down.”

New COVID-19 cases had been on the decline leading up to Thanksgiving, but they rose again last week in the wake of the holiday. The dip may be attributed to a two-week emergency order that banned gatherings with people from outside one’s own household. Once that order expired, Herbert didn’t renew it.