Utah reports another 11 COVID-19 deaths, but the spread of cases seems to be slowing

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) University of Utah Health begins administering the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine as pharmacy resident Chanah Gallagher gets ready to give Christy Mulder, an RN in the MICU, her second dose on Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021.

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Utah’s rate of positive COVID-19 tests continues to fall, a sign that the spread of the coronavirus is slowing, health officials have explained.

The Utah Department of Health reported Thursday that about 17% of tests are positive, and it was about twice that last week.

But the death toll continue to rise. Another 11 deaths were reported Thursday, bringing the total to 101 in just the past week — 7% of the total COVID-19 deaths in Utah since the pandemic began.

“We are certainly moving in the right direction,” with the rate of positive tests dropping, state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn said at a news conference Thursday. “You’re doing the right things. Please continue to do them.”

Still, while the vaccine rollout is “a light at the end of the tunnel,” infectious diseases Dr. Eddie Stenehjem said in another news conference, it also “allows people to become a little more lax” about the spread of COVID-19.

“We’re by no means out of the woods on this. … Herd immunity is a way’s off,” he warned.

[Read more: Gov. Cox see vaccine glitches as a good sign, as Salt Lake County seniors are frustrated by problems for a second day]

Vaccinations reported in past day/total vaccinations • 8,318 / 133,202.

Cases reported in past day • 2,742.

Deaths reported in past day • 11.

The deaths reported Wednesday • All but one of the 11 deaths were people 65 and older.

There were two deaths in Salt Lake County, both women age 65 to 84. There were also two deaths in Utah County (one man 65 to 84 and another man over 85); Washington County (a woman and a man both 65 to 84); and Weber County (two men 65 to 84).

There was one death each in Davis County (a man 45 to 64); Iron County (a man 65 to 84), and Kane County (a man 65 to 84).

Hospitalizations reported in past day • 559. That’s down seven from Wednesday. Of those currently hospitalized, 194 are in intensive care units — the same as on Wednesday.

Tests reported in past day • 16,231.

Percentage of positive tests • 16.89%. This is more than 9% lower than the seven-day average of 26%.

Totals to date • 317,559 cases; 1,460 deaths; 12,249 hospitalizations; 1,871,616 tests.

Stenehjem said he is “cautiously optimistic” that Utah’s post-Christmas surge in COVID-19 cases is easing off, though doctors won’t be sure for another five to seven days.

The drop in the state’s test positivity rate — the seven-day average of 26% on Thursday was down from the high of 33% a couple of weeks ago — is “a good sign,” Stenehjem said, though “nowhere near where we need to be, mind you.”

[Read more: Gov. Spencer Cox will keep age requirement at 70 for COVID-19 vaccine]