In the midst of another COVID-19 surge, doctors plead with Utahns to get vaccinated

Utah reports 394 new cases of the coronavirus and two more deaths.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) A nurse from test Utah tests for Covid-19 in the parking lot of the South East Health Department, in Moab, on Friday, May 14, 2021.

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The number of Utahns hospitalized with COVID-19 has surged in the last two weeks, and leaders from four of the state’s leading hospital systems joined forces Wednesday to urge people to get vaccinated.

”We have a definitive tool to end the pandemic,” said Dr. Kencee Graves, associate chief medical officer for inpatient care at University of Utah Health. “We have a definitive tool to take care of each other, to keep each other save, and that is the vaccine.”

The Utah Department of Health reported Wednesday that 260 Utahns were hospitalized with COVID-19. On June 21, 16 days earlier, that number was 150.

UDOH reported 394 new cases of COVID-19 in the state Wednesday, and two more Utahns — both in Iron County — have died from the disease.

Dr. Arlen Jarrett, chief medical officer for Steward Health in Utah, said during an online news conference that among Steward’s five hospitals in the state, the number of patients with COVID-19 rose 110% — more than double — “overnight” two weeks ago, and has stayed at that level since.

”To say it another way, our hospital census of COVID patients is at nearly the same level it was at the worst part of the winter surge,” Jarrett said.

The intensive care units at Steward’s hospitals, Jarrett said, are at 80% capacity. Not all of those ICU beds are filled with COVID-19 patients, he said; the majority are recovering from accidents and surgeries, some delayed until now because of the pandemic.

Most of Utah’s hospitalized COVID-19 patients, about 93%, are unvaccinated, said Dr. Michelle Hofmann, deputy director of the Utah Department of Health. Dr. Mike Baumann, chief medical officer for MountainStar Healthcare, cited the figures at one location, Ogden Regional Hospital. That hospital saw 35 COVID-19 patients during the month of June, Baumann said. Of those, 33 were unvaccinated; one had received one of two doses; and one was a so-called “breakthrough” case, who had been fully vaccinated and still got COVID-19.

The hospital leaders said that, with the vaccine readily available, the state was unlikely to return to previous restrictions to contain the spread of the virus.

”We’re past the point of mask mandates and social-distancing mandates,” Jarrett said. “I think that’s behind us.”

Jarrett added that government policies can “help us move the vaccination program forward.” Some people can’t take time off work to get the vaccine, he said, or don’t have transportation to go to a vaccination site. “We could do plenty of things to take down those barriers.”

Vaccine doses administered in past day/total doses administered • 5,138 / 2,890,094.

Utahns fully vaccinated • 1,420,408.

Cases reported in past day • 394.

Deaths reported in past day • Two, both in Iron County — a man and a woman, each between the ages of 45 and 64.

Tests reported in past day • 3,619 people were tested for the first time. A total of 6,632 people were tested.

Hospitalizations reported in the past day • 260. That’s 14 fewer than on Tuesday. Of those currently hospitalized, 85 are in intensive care, seven fewer than on Tuesday.

Percentage of positive tests • Under the state’s original method, the rate is 10.9%. That’s lower than the seven-day average of 11.8%.

The state’s new method counts all test results, including repeated tests of the same individual. Wednesday’s rate was 5.9%, lower than the seven-day average of 7.9%.

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

Totals to date • 417,653 cases; 2,387 deaths; 17,690 hospitalizations; 2,816,448 people tested.

This story is developing and will be updated.