Doctor pleads for mask mandate for schools as Utah reports five more COVID-19 deaths

The number of new cases Tuesday was twice as high as it was last month.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) People are vaccinated against COVID-19 at the former Provo High School gym at 1125 N. University Ave. on Wednesday, July 28, 2021.

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The Utah Department of Health reported 728 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, more than twice as many as it reported last month.

On July 3, UDOH reported 348 new cases. Three months ago, on May 3, there were 261 new cases. On Feb 3, six months ago, there were 1,273 new cases. Looking back a whole year to Aug. 3, 2020, there were 370 new cases.

UDOH also reported five more deaths caused by the coronavirus. And hospitalization numbers continued to rise — in the past day, the number of Utahns in the hospital because of COVID-19 rose by 28 to 395, and the number of COVID patients in intensive care rose by eight to 171.

As cases increase, Intermountain Healthcare’s Infectious Diseases Physician Dr. Todd Vento urged Utahns to take all measures possible to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, especially as back-to-school season approaches.

“We have people in this country under 12, and Utah has the highest percentage of under 18 in the country,” Vento said. “That population is a reservoir for infection, they get COVID. Fortunately, they don’t get severe COVID in high numbers, but they get COVID. And you’re gonna have them together every single day. And they don’t have the opportunity for vaccines, they have to wear masks.”

With no word on when vaccines will be authorized for children under 12, Vento said this situation, with less masking and a more aggressive delta variant, is a “recipe for disaster.” Now is the time to “reset our mindset.”

“We have to have masking of individuals in schools, and we really need a mask mandate and a universal mask mandate for children in school in particular, that’s an indoor gathering,” Vento said. “It’s really critical that everyone take personal responsibility.”

In Intermountain hospitals, Vento says they’re seeing some young patients who have gone out without being vaccinated, have contracted the virus, and “they’ve gotten sick, then very sick, and then in the ICU and a prolonged hospital stay, if not worse — you know, some of them have died.”

Across town, Salt Lake County health officials warned elected leaders that the county is on track to see 60 new cases per day in kids younger than 12 with the start of the school year. “This translates to one child being hospitalized with COVID every other day if we don’t take any prevention measures,” Dr. Angela Dunn, head of the Salt Lake County Health Department, told county council members during a Tuesday meeting.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently recommended that vaccinated individuals return to masking. He said this advice, although in response to several outbreaks, was particularly influenced by an outbreak in Cape Cod, Mass.

In that case, there was a high vaccination rate among the local residents, but there was also a lot of tourist activity. This led to several hundred cases of the virus, and “the vast majority of them were actually in vaccinated individuals.” But Vento says that does not mean the risk of infection is high for vaccinated people.

“The good thing is that none of them got severely ill, into the hospital, because the vaccine did exactly what it showed it could do and why it was authorized for emergency use, was because it prevents severe COVID in hospitalizations, ICU and death, and so that still works,” Vento said. “But it was important that we learn that you can still get COVID and you can still spread it to others.”

Medication shortages are also a concern, particularly with the drug Tocilizumab, which is administered to stop COVID-19-triggered inflammation. And Vento worries about hospital capacities — especially as flu and respiratory virus season approaches with as the school year begins.

“Just to put it bluntly, we already are past our capacity in functional bed capacity in several hospitals, and not just Intermountain,” Vento said.

Vaccine doses administered in past day/total doses administered • 6,830 / 3,041,947.

Utahns fully vaccinated • 1,488,331.

Cases reported in past day • 728.

Deaths reported in past day • Five — a woman between the ages of 45 and 64 and a man 65-84 in Utah County, a man 45-64 in Kane County, a woman 65-84 in Millard County, and a woman 65-84 in Sanpete County.

Tests reported in past day • 6,018 people were tested for the first time. A total of 10,576 people were tested.

Hospitalizations reported in the past day • 395. That’s 28 more than on Monday. Of those currently hospitalized, 171 are in intensive care, eight more than on Monday.

Percentage of positive tests • Under the state’s original method, the rate is 12.1%. That’s lower than the seven-day average of 15%.

The state’s new method counts all test results, including repeated tests of the same individual. Tuesday’s rate was 6.9%, lower than the seven-day average of 10.6%

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

Totals to date • 435,439 cases; 2,471 deaths; 18,770 hospitalizations; 2,938,515 people tested.