As Utah reports 1,500 new COVID-19 cases, hospitals brace for a post-Labor Day surge

Eight more Utahns have died from the virus.

(Intermountain Healthcare) Health care workers tend to a COVID-19 patient in the intensive care unit at Intermountain Utah Valley Hospital in Provo, Aug. 25, 2021.

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Utah hospitals, already at capacity, are expecting to see more sick people who caught the coronavirus over the Labor Day weekend, a leading Utah doctor said.

“We’re bracing for that,” Dr. Brandon Webb, an infectious diseases physician at Intermountain Healthcare, said Wednesday during a community COVID-19 briefing on Facebook Live. “We expect that over the next couple of weeks, we likely will see increased numbers of new cases, and new cases then lead to new hospitalizations.”

Another 1,539 Utahns tested positive for COVID-19, the Utah Department of Health reported Wednesday, and eight more people in the state have died from the virus.

Kids in grades K-12 accounted for 362 of the newly reported cases — almost a quarter of the total. There were 138 cases in children ages 5 to 10; 99 cases in children 11 to 13; and 125 cases in children 14 to 18.

The rolling seven-day average for positive tests stands at 1,362 per day.

On Wednesday, 483 were reported hospitalized — with 175 people in intensive care units.

Intermountain’s referral hospitals, the hubs through which other hospitals’ most critical cases flow, are at or above capacity, Webb said. He said hospitals are having to “load level” — transfer patients from busier hospitals to less-busy hospitals — and “use creative means” to continue to provide care.

“We’re seeing fatigue, especially on the faces of nurses and other health care providers that are on the front lines,” Webb said. Also, more health care workers “are having to take time off of work because they’re caregivers at home, and their children or other dependents are getting sick and needing to be tested and go to the doctor themselves. That’s taking away from our workforce.”

Historically, Webb said, a holiday weekend — and the gatherings and events that accompany it — brings an increase in the community’s COVID-19 case count.

Webb said it’s hard to determine which cases might have been contracted over the Labor Day holiday weekend, and what might be attributed to the start of school or other events. “It’s going to be difficult when multiple events are all occurring simultaneously in the community,” Webb said.

Another big event is coming Saturday: The rivalry football game between the University of Utah and Brigham Young University. More than 63,000 people are expected to fill LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo, plus an unknown number of people likely to gather in sports bars and homes to watch the game.

“Transmission occurs person-to-person,” Webb said. “Spending time in close proximity — especially in indoor settings, but even in outdoor settings and stadiums where there are large groups of people and where physical distancing isn’t possible — does increase the chances that we will have transmission events. It simply does.”

People can cut down the chances of transmitting the virus, Webb said, by taking such precautions as wearing masks. “Even in an outdoor stadium setting, where you’re sitting around others, wearing masks is going to be effective,” he said.

“I love college football,” Webb said, and “the way to safely enjoy those things we all love is … to do the two things we need to do to decrease the variants — and that is to increase our immunity through vaccination, and to decrease transmission by preventing those exposures.”

Of the eight Utahns whose deaths were added to the state’s tally, two were under the age of 45, and one was a child or young adult — a girl or woman between the ages of 15 and 24 in Iron County.

In the past four weeks, unvaccinated Utahns were 5.2 times more likely to die of COVID-19 than vaccinated people, according to a UDOH analysis. The unvaccinated were also 5.2 times more likely to be hospitalized, and 4.5 times more likely to test positive for the coronavirus.

Vaccine doses administered in past day/total doses administered • UDOH did not report vaccine data on Wednesday because it is “currently undergoing a quality analysis.” The health department hopes to resume vaccine reporting on Thursday.

Utahns fully vaccinated • UDOH did not report vaccination numbers on Wednesday.

Cases reported in past day • 1,539.

Deaths reported in past day • Eight.

Three counties each reported two deaths — a man between the ages of 25 and 44 and a woman 85-plus in Salt Lake County; a woman 15 to 24 and a man 65 to 84 in Iron County; and two men 65 to 84 in Washington County.

A Utah County man 65 to 84 and a Davis County woman 85-plus also died.

Tests reported in past day • 10,349 people were tested for the first time. A total of 18,148 people were tested.

Hospitalizations reported in the past day • 483. That’s one more than on Friday. Of those currently hospitalized, 175 are in intensive care, unchanged from Tuesday.

Percentage of positive tests • Under the state’s original method, the rate is 14.9% for the past day. That’s higher than the seven-day average of 12.4%.

The state’s new method counts all test results, including repeated tests of the same individual. The rate for the past day was 8.5%, lower than the seven-day average of 9.3%.

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

Totals to date • 475,625 cases; 2,693 deaths; 20,699 hospitalizations; 3,228,020 people tested.