Editor’s note: The Salt Lake Tribune is providing free access to critical stories about the coronavirus. Sign up for our Top Stories newsletter, sent to your inbox every morning. To support journalism like this, please donate or become a subscriber.
Case counts for COVID-19 will likely continue their surge as students go back to school, a doctor with Intermountain Healthcare predicted Friday — and with them, rising numbers of hospitalizations and deaths from the coronavirus.
”I worry that we’re in for a tough couple of months,” Dr. Eddie Stenehjem, an infectious diseases physician at Intermountain, said during a community COVID-19 briefing over Facebook Live. “I worry that going back to school may really kick off an even worse transmission pattern, worse case counts, worse hospitalization. And we don’t have the room in our hospitals to care for these people.”
Stenehjem’s prediction came on a day when the Utah Department of Health reported another 1,116 people in Utah had tested positive for COVID-19.
Of that number, UDOH said, 216 of them are school-age children. There were 81 new cases for kids between the ages of 5-10, 50 cases ages 11-13, and 85 cases 14-18.
Also, nine more Utahns died from the disease, UDOH reported.
The case count is almost equal to what it was one week ago (1,136 on Aug. 13). It’s 22% higher than it was a month ago (866 on July 20), and almost four times what it was three months ago (298 on May 20). Six months ago, there were 703 new cases (on Feb. 20); and a year ago, there were 483 new cases (Aug. 20, 2020).
With school already back in session, or starting in the next few weeks, Stenehjem said public health experts are expecting students will start infecting each other and taking the virus home to their families. Case counts are expected to go up in the next two weeks, he said — and, as happened last year, hospitalizations will rise a week or two after that, followed by a rise in deaths.
According to the Utah Department of Health, there are 419 Utahns hospitalized with COVID-19, and 158 of those are in intensive care units.
Capacity at intensive care units across Intermountain’s system is at 99%, Stenehjem said. Among the system’s COVID-19 hub hospitals, he said, the ICU capacity is at 101.2%.
“We are struggling to find ICU beds to care for all the patients that need them,” Stenehjem said, “and that includes COVID and non-COVID alike.”
Stenehjem pushed back against critics on social media, who cite the number of licensed beds available and argue that the medical community’s fears are overblown. According to UDOH, 87% of the state’s total ICU beds are currently occupied.
Capacity, Stenehjem said, isn’t just determined by the number of beds, but the health care workers available to staff them properly. “You may be licensed for 450 beds in a hospital, but you only staff 380 of them,” he said.
The seven day rolling average of new cases stands at 1,043 — the highest that number has been since Feb. 9.
In the past four weeks, unvaccinated Utahns were 5.8 times more likely to die of COVID-19 than vaccinated people, according to a UDOH analysis. The unvaccinated were also 6.4 times more likely to be hospitalized, and 5.3 times more likely to test positive from the coronavirus.
An additional 3,484 Utahns were fully vaccinated in the past day, bringing the total to 1,538,928 — 47% of Utah’s total population.
According to UDOH, Utah has seen 8,022 “breakthrough” cases of COVID-19 — people who contracted the virus two weeks or more after being fully vaccinated. That’s about one in every 192 people who are fully vaccinated.
Of that number, 464 have been hospitalized, one in about every 3,317 fully vaccinated people. And there have been 35 deaths, one in about every 43,969 fully vaccinated people.
Vaccine doses administered in past day/total doses administered • 8,553 / 3,174,981.
Utahns fully vaccinated • 1,538,928.
Cases reported in past day • 1,116.
Deaths reported in past day • Nine.
There were three deaths in Salt Lake County: Two men and a woman, each between the ages of 45-64.
Two of the deaths were of Utah County residents: a woman 45-64 and a man 65-84.
Other deaths were: a Summit County woman 65-84, a Wasatch County man 65-84, a Washington County man 65-84, and a Weber County woman 65-84.
Tests reported in past day • 8,553 people were tested for the first time. A total of 13,054 people were tested.
Hospitalizations reported in the past day • 419. That’s 20 more than on Thursday. Of those currently hospitalized, 158 are in intensive care, four fewer than on Thursday.
Percentage of positive tests • Under the state’s original method, the rate is 13%. That’s lower than the seven-day average of 14%.
The state’s new method counts all test results, including repeated tests of the same individual. Friday’s rate was 8.5%, lower than the seven-day average of 10%
Totals to date • 451,655 cases; 2,572 deaths; 19,618 hospitalizations; 3,051,197 people tested.
This story is developing and will be updated.