In October, after the pandemic had raged for seven months, Utah hit a milestone: 500 deaths.
Now, two months later, deaths have doubled.
Officially, after Thursday’s report from the Utah Department of Health, we’ve surpassed 1,000 coronavirus deaths in Utah, reaching 1,016. Yes, the quickening pace is to be expected when we’ve seen exponential growth in infections, but just because it’s not mathematically shocking doesn’t mean the deaths aren’t legitimately sobering. It’s likely the most deadly event to occur in Utah in 100 years — we haven’t seen this since the last pandemic, the Spanish Flu outbreak of 1918.
Let’s once again break down the deaths: where they came from and what types of people are most impacted.
COVID-19 one of Utah’s top two killers
Thanks to weekly death data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, we can track where COVID-19 ranks among the reasons people die in Utah. The data isn’t exact as the extra deaths can trickle in when the state verifies death certificates. You’ll also notice that we haven’t gotten deaths for other causes in December.
But the headline remains — COVID-19 is one of Utah’s top killers. In some weeks recently, and likely this week, it’s Utah’s No. 1 killer. Watch this animation to see how the death numbers have changed in recent months.
For most of the pandemic, COVID-19 was in the bottom or middle of Utah’s top 10 causes of death. But now that cases have spiked, so too have deaths, bring COVID-19 to the forefront. In the past few weeks, COVID-19 has traded places with only heart disease as the leading cause of death in Utah; cancer deaths come in at No. 3.
The age and gender split of the Utahns who died from the coronavirus hasn’t changed much since we examined Utah’s 500 deaths in October. Once again, about half are from the 65-84 age group, and another quarter were 85 or older. While younger people can and do die from the coronavirus, usually doctors and nurses can save them — the average coronavirus hospital patient is 55.
The gender breakdown, too, hasn’t changed greatly. Roughly two-thirds of Utah’s coronavirus deaths are men, despite roughly 50/50 hospitalization rates. This could be due to higher comorbidity rates in men, or that their immune systems are different than women’s.
In terms of race and ethnicity, Utah’s most recent 500 deaths more strongly reflect the state’s base demographic profile than the first 500. While deaths are still skewed overall to minorities — Pacific Islanders, American Indians, Hispanics and Asians — the most recent 500 deaths saw white deaths catch up on a percentage basis to the others as the virus spread broadly to nearly every community in Utah.
Still, though, we should be cognizant of the outsized impact the virus has had on minority communities here and throughout the country.
Utah’s rural areas have seen the largest number of deaths per capita. The coronavirus crisis in San Juan County have been well documented by Tribune reporter Zak Podmore, but counties like Piute, Garfield, and Juab have also seen an outsized number of deaths given their low populations. Among urban and suburban counties, Washington County has the highest rate of fatalities, next is Salt Lake County.
As death rates have declined somewhat over the course of the pandemic thanks to a better understanding of how to treat the disease, it’s useful to see exactly how the virus has spread throughout Utah. Here’s a week-by-week map of each Utah health district and how many cases they reported per 100,000 population. Hit the play button to watch the map animate.
Remember, Summit County was one of the top-10 worst counties in the nation in terms of coronavirus infections in March. But it was quickly surpassed by the San Juan County outbreak, before the virus took hold in Salt Lake County and other districts. Utah County became a big hotspot in September, but as we went into November, the virus slammed the whole state.
And now we’re here, facing uncontrolled spread, overrun hospitals, and more than 1,000 deaths. The number of deaths is climbing.
The statistics are compelling; the stories, more so. No matter the perspective, we’ll never forget the people who have died in Utah due to this pandemic, a calamity that will change our history forever.
Andy Larsen is a data columnist. He is also one of The Salt Lake Tribune’s Utah Jazz beat writers. You can reach him at email@example.com.