Delta variant cases quadruple in Utah — but it’s because of a new way of counting

Gov. Spencer Cox urged Utahns to get the vaccine to protect against the new variant.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Nursing graduate April Taylor pulls two vials from the refrigerator at the Woods Cross High School pop-up clinic by Nomi Health, April 27, 2021. County and regional health districts are setting up vaccination clinics in high schools, to get the COVID-19 vaccine to 16- and 17-year-olds.

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The number of confirmed cases of the COVID-19 Delta variant in Utah nearly quadrupled on Thursday — from 42 to 162 — but not because there are a lot of new cases.

The international database PANGO (Phylogenetic Assignment of Named Global Outbreak) has merged its reporting of the B.1.95 variant and the Delta variant (B.1.716.2), which caused the big one-day jump. All of the “new” Delta cases reported on Thursday were formerly listed as B.1.95, so without that change, there would’ve been no increase.

Earlier this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reclassified Delta as a “variant of concern” in the United States because of “mounting evidence that the Delta variant spreads more easily and causes more severe cases when compared to other variants.” First identified in India, Delta is the dominant strain there and in the United Kingdom. It’s about 40% to 60% more transmissible than the Alpha variant, which is currently dominant in the United States.

About 10% of all the coronavirus cases in the United States are now the Delta variant, according to the CDC, up from 2.7% on May 22. The coronavirus vaccines currently available are proving effective against the Delta variant.

Thursday’s seven-day rolling average of new cases in Utah was 288, the Utah Department of Health reported. That figure had dropped as low as 202 a day on June 2.

Some of that rise, Gov. Spencer Cox said Thursday at his monthly televised news conference on PBS Utah, can be attributed to the Delta variant. “The Delta variant is here. We believe the Delta variant is growing,” he said. “The great news is that the vaccines work against the Delta variant.”

In response to the variant, UDOH issued a statement that it “strongly” encourages “anyone who is 12 and older to get vaccinated as soon as possible.” And Cox repeated the same plea — and displayed frustration that most COVID-19 cases diagnosed recently, as well as hospitalizations and deaths, are among the unvaccinated.

Since March 23, when vaccines became available to all Utahns 16 or older, the state has seen 28,233 new cases of COVID-19, and 98.6% of them were unvaccinated, Cox said.

Similarly, Cox said, 95.2% of the 1,625 Utahns who were hospitalized with COVID-19 in that time frame were unvaccinated — and 98.2% of the 113 Utahns who died from COVID-19 since March 23 did not get vaccinated.

“It’s very sad,” Cox said, his voice rising with anger. In recent weeks, he said, he has spoken with families “whose loved ones have died or who are in the hospital, in dire circumstances right now, because they refused to get vaccinated. Completely preventable. They didn’t have to die. They don’t have to be in the hospital. But they’re dead now, and they’re in the hospital now, because they refused to get vaccinated.”

Information about where to get vaccinated is available at coronavirus.utah.gov/vaccine.

Vaccine doses administered in past day/total doses administered • 6,496 / 2,767,967.

Utahns fully vaccinated • 1,331,326.

Cases reported in past day • 369.

Deaths reported in past day • None.

Tests reported in past day • 3,742 people were tested for the first time. A total of 6,724 people were tested.

Hospitalizations reported in the past day • 173. That’s 14 more than on Wednesday. Of those currently hospitalized, 66 are in intensive care units, four fewer than on Wednesday.

Percentage of positive tests • Under the state’s original method, the rate is 9.9%. That’s higher than the seven-day average of 7.6%.

The state’s new method counts all test results, including repeated tests of the same individual. Thursday’s rate was 5.9%, higher than the seven-day average of 4.9%

[Read more: Utah is changing how it measures the rate of positive COVID-19 tests. Here’s what that means.]

Totals to date • 410,746 cases; 2,324 deaths; 17,204 hospitalizations; 2,751,868 people tested.