19 more Utahns die of COVID-19 as ICUs remain near capacity, providers ‘struggle to provide care’

At the University of Utah hospital, 92% of coronavirus patients currently in the ICU are not fully vaccinated.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Bryce Combe administers a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a drive-thru event organized by the Utah County Health Department in Spanish Fork on Friday, Sept. 10, 2021.

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Nineteen more Utahns died of COVID-19 in the past day, according to the Utah Department of Health. One of them was between the ages of 25-44, and six were 45-64.

Despite the additional 19 deaths reported, the state’s overall COVID-19 death toll instead rose by 17 on Wednesday. The Health Department said that’s because two previously reported COVID-19 deaths have been removed from the overall total following further analysis.

The state’s intensive care units remain near capacity. According to the Utah Department of Health, 92.1% of all ICU beds and 94.3% of ICU beds in larger medical centers are occupied. Of all ICU patients, 45% are suffering from COVID-19.

During a virtual news conference Wednesday, Dr. Elizabeth Middleton, associate medical director of the ICU at University of Utah Hospital, said “our ICU census is continually full.”

Middleton said the unit is designed to handle 25 patients at a time. The hospital has brought in an additional team to help cover other patients, but in the last few weeks, the ICU population has not dropped below 30 patients for more than a few hours “as we continue to struggle to provide care for the sickest of the sick.”

The patients Middleton has seen recently are more likely to need a ventilator, she said. Compared to last year, more of them are younger — some in their 20s. And there are more pregnant women coming into the ICU than last year, she said.

About 8% of the COVID-19 patients in the University of Utah Hospital’s ICU are fully vaccinated, said Dr. Russell Vinik, chief medical operations officer at University of Utah Health. Most vaccinated patients are immunocompromised, Middleton said. A few are breakthrough cases, she said, but “they turn around pretty quickly, so they may come to us for a couple of days.”

The bulk of the COVID-19 patients in the U.’s ICU — 92% — are not fully vaccinated, Vinik said.

“By the time they come to me, they’re scared,” Middleton said. “A lot of what, I think, is motivating people to not get vaccinated is what they’re hearing, from whatever their sources are, and [they’re] also motivated by fear. They were afraid of the vaccine and less afraid of COVID.”

“I wish there was a way to break through that, and show them that the possible injury caused by COVID is so much worse than what we see with the vaccine,” Middleton said.

Often, relatives of those patients also are unvaccinated and are not permitted to visit per hospital restrictions.

“They get agitated and mad at us,” said Cornelio Morales, a health care assistant in the University of Utah Hospital’s medical ICU.

Families who are unable to visit their ailing loved ones are under “a huge degree of emotional strain,” Middleton said. “They can’t appreciate all the work that’s going on to support them and help them. There’s a level of mistrust at times, and it takes a while to build a therapeutic relationship with the family. That takes hours — hours of discussion, reassurance, communication.”

COVID-19 is “such a preventable disease,” Middleton said, “and the suffering and injury that we see for patients, and the moral injury to providers, is preventable.”

The Health Department reported 1,845 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday. The rolling seven-day average for positive tests stands at 1,380 per day.

An additional 2,596 Utahns were fully vaccinated against the coronavirus in the past day, bringing the total to 1,717,649 — 52.5% of Utah’s total population.

Vaccine doses administered in past day/total doses administered • 10,568 / 3,586,076.

Utahns fully vaccinated • 1,717,649.

Cases reported in past day • 1,845.

Cases among school age children • Kids in grades K-12 accounted for 392 of the new cases announced Wednesday. There were 190 cases reported in children aged 5-10; 76 cases in children 11-13; and 126 cases in children 14-18.

Tests reported in past day • 11,272 people were tested for the first time. A total of 22,328 people were tested.

Deaths reported in past day • 19.

Hospitalizations reported in the past day • 624. That’s 26 more than reported on Tuesday. Of those currently hospitalized, 218 are in intensive care — one fewer than Tuesday.

Percentage of positive tests • Under the state’s original method, the rate is 16.4% over the past day. That’s higher than the seven-day average of 15.6%.

The state’s new method counts all test results, including repeated tests of the same individual. Wednesday’s rate was 8.3%, lower than the seven-day average of 10.3%.

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

Risk ratios • In the past four weeks, unvaccinated Utahns were 12.6 times more likely to die of COVID-19 than vaccinated people, according to a health department analysis. The unvaccinated also were 11.1 times more likely to be hospitalized and 6.3 times more likely to test positive for the coronavirus.

Totals to date • 526,401 cases; 3,042 deaths; 22,951 hospitalizations; 3,565,577 people tested.