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Salt Lake County officials urge residents to protect themselves in unusual COVID-19 advisory

The rolling seven-day average for new cases in Utah is the highest it has ever been, UDOH reported.

(Rick Bowmer | AP) A member of the Salt Lake County Health Department COVID-19 testing staff walks past a line outside the Salt Lake County Health Department, Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2021, in Salt Lake City.

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Salt Lake County officials issued a public health advisory Tuesday, urging residents to take more stringent coronavirus precautions this month as local COVID-19 transmission rates spike to levels not seen since November 2020.

The Utah Department of Health reported 4,661 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, just short of the state’s all-time high of 4,706 new cases reported on Dec. 30, 2020.

The rolling seven-day average of new coronavirus cases also now stands at 3,754 — the highest that figure has ever been. The previous high was 3,392 on Nov. 22, 2020.

The state Health Department on Tuesday also confirmed seven more COVID-19 deaths.

“We are in the beginning stages of a new surge of infections and our unvaccinated friends and family are at risk of serious illness,” Dr. Angela Dunn, executive director of the Salt Lake County Health Department, said in a statement Tuesday.

The public health advisory runs through Jan. 31. It urges residents to:

  • Wear a well-fitting mask indoors in public, regardless of vaccination status. Higher-quality masks including KN95s may offer additional protection, the advisory notes.

  • Stay home if you have any COVID-19 symptoms, regardless of vaccination status or past infection, and get tested. Find where to get tested at coronavirus.utah.gov/utah-covid-19-testing-locations.

  • Follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance if you test positive for COVID-19. That means isolating at home for at least five days after being tested, staying home longer if symptoms have not subsided, and wearing a mask around others for at least another five days after isolation ends.

  • Get vaccinated, and get boosted if eligible. Find where to get vaccinated at coronavirus.utah.gov/vaccine-distribution.

  • Avoid all large gatherings if attendees are not vaccinated or boosted.

The advisory marked the first that Dunn has issued since she began working in June as director of the Salt Lake County Health Department.

“Typically, what’s been used throughout the pandemic are health orders — things like mask mandates, isolation mandates, or isolation orders,” Dunn said. “The reason why we did a health advisory is because the legislature now requires any COVID health order to be approved by the mayor and the county council. So it is subject to a political process, where the advisory is not.”

The advisory states that while recent evidence suggests omicron infections may cause less severe illness, increased transmission is expected, which may still result in “negative health and social outcomes.”

Dunn said she is concerned about omicron’s potential impact on children. Chicago and New York City reported 2-5 times more pediatric hospitalizations with the new variant, she said.

“The thing that keeps me up at night right now are our schools,” Dunn said. “We essentially don’t have any protections for our kids in school right now.”

With no statewide mask mandate for schools, no vaccine requirements and limited social distancing, she urged parents to send children to school in a mask, get them tested if they have symptoms, and keep them home if they are symptomatic.

”That will go a long way to protecting not only our kids, but also our community and our hospitals,” she said.

[Read more: 5 things you should know about COVID-19 in Utah right now]

The number of children getting vaccinated continues to climb: 97,868 children ages 5-11 have received at least one dose since they became eligible. That is 26.8% of kids that age in Utah, according to the Health Department. And 65,725 of those kids have been fully vaccinated — 18% of that age group.

Intensive care units in the state remain near capacity. UDOH reported Tuesday that 88.1% of all ICU beds in Utah and 91.2% of ICU beds in larger medical centers throughout the state are occupied. (Hospitals consider any figure over 85% to be functionally full.) Of all ICU patients, 38.8% are being treated for COVID-19.

Vaccine doses administered in the past four days/total doses administered • 12,319 / 4,576,939.

Number of Utahns fully vaccinated • 1,906,458 — 58.3% of Utah’s total population. That is an increase of 2,563 in the past day.

Vaccination status • Health officials do not immediately have or release the vaccination status of individuals who test positive, who are hospitalized, or who die. They do calculate the overall risk ratios of these outcomes depending on vaccination status, which you can see below.

Cases reported in the past day • 4,661.

Cases among school-age children • Kids in grades K-12 accounted for 651 of the new cases announced Tuesday — 14% of the total. There were 249 cases reported in children aged 5-10; 126 cases in children 11-13; and 276 cases in children 14-18.

[Read more: Will Utah see a surge of COVID-19 cases in schools?]

Tests reported in the past day • 15,056 people were tested for the first time. A total of 30,442 people were tested.

Deaths reported in the past day • Seven.

There were three deaths in Salt Lake County — a man and a woman between the ages of 25-44, and a woman 85-plus. Washington County reported two deaths — a man 45-64, and a woman 65-84.

A Box Elder County woman 65-84 and a Carbon County man 65-84 also died.

Hospitalizations reported in the past day • 479. That is 13 more than reported on Monday. Of those currently hospitalized, 178 are in intensive care — one fewer than were reported on Monday.

Percentage of positive tests • Under the state’s original method, the rate is 31% in the past day. That is higher than the seven-day average of 21%.

The state’s new method counts all test results, including repeated tests of the same individual. Tuesday’s rate was 15.3%, higher than the seven-day average of 14.2%.

[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 20.1 times more likely to die of COVID-19 than vaccinated people, according to a Utah Department of Health analysis. The unvaccinated also were 9.6 times more likely to be hospitalized, and 2.8 times more likely to test positive for the coronavirus.

Totals to date • 656,407 cases; 3,811 deaths; 27,825 hospitalizations; 4,313,416 people tested.

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