Utah reports nation’s 3rd worst COVID rate, with nearly 22,000 new cases, 33 deaths

High rates of positive tests suggest cases are being undercounted

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) A steady line of vehicles filled with multiple people waiting to be tested for COVID-19 are tended to by members of the Utah Department of Health at the Cannon Health Building, Dec. 27, 2021.

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Utah reported the nation’s third worst COVID-19 infection rate as of Monday.

With 21,970 new coronavirus cases since Friday, Utah averaged 2,359.8 cases per 100,000 residents in the past week — a rate surpassed only by Wisconsin (2,552.1) and Rhode Island (2,359.9), according to theU.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There also were 33 new coronavirus deaths confirmed since Friday.

Utah’s near-record hospitalizations and extremely high rates of positive test results once again suggest that cases are being undercounted amid a statewide testing shortage.

For more than a week, state officials have urged Utahns not to get tested for COVID-19 unless they have health risks or are likely to expose vulnerable people.

Despite that, there were 10,610 new cases documented Friday — the seventh-highest daily case count since the pandemic began, according to data from the Utah Department of Health. That was followed by 6,850 new cases on Saturday, and 4,549 on Sunday. The record high before this month was 4,706 in December 2020.

But with about 30% of all tests coming back positive during the past week, Utah is almost certainly undercounting its cases. The higher the percent positivity, the likelier it is that a large number of infected residents are not being tested and may be spreading the virus unwittingly. State health officials have said the positivity rate would have to drop to 3% to suggest the virus is under control. Instead, 25% of the test results reported since Friday were positive.

For the past week, Utah has averaged 9,677 new cases per day, down from Friday’s 10,800. Before the highly contagious omicron variant of the virus swept through Utah this month, the highest that figure had ever been was 3,392, reported in November 2020.

Meanwhile, the state reported 33 deaths on Monday, bringing the total to 4,063 since the pandemic began.

Utah’s hospitals remained near capacity, and the number of currently hospitalized COVID-19 patients — 738 — is down slightly from Friday’s 765 but far higher than the record before this month: 606 patients in December 2020. There are fewer COVID patients in intensive care units now (194) than there were then (213). But hospital staffing is tighter now than it was in 2020, Utah hospital administrators have said.

ICUs in the state’s larger, “referral” hospitals are now at 90% capacity — above the 85% threshold that hospital administrators have said is necessary to leave room for unpredictable staffing levels, new patients and availability of specialized equipment and personnel. Statewide, 86.6% of all ICU beds are filled.

In the past two weeks, the state has reported 152 children under age 15 were hospitalized with COVID-19.

Kids in grades K-12 accounted for 3,309 of the new cases announced Monday — 15% of the total. There were 1,362 cases reported in children aged 5-10; 778 cases in children 11-13; and 1,169 cases in children 14-18.

The number of children getting vaccinated continues to climb: 113,702 children ages 5-11 have received at least one dose since they became eligible. That is 31.2% of kids that age in Utah, according to the health department. And 80,599 of those kids have been fully vaccinated — 22.1% of that age group.

Find where to get vaccinated at coronavirus.utah.gov/vaccine-distribution.

Find where to get tested at coronavirus.utah.gov/utah-covid-19-testing-locations.

Breakdown of updated figures

Vaccine doses administered in the past weekend/total doses administered • 16,519 / 4,762,582.

Number of Utahns fully vaccinated • 1,937,872 — 59.2% of Utah’s total population. That is an increase of 4,290 during the past weekend.

Cases reported during the past weekend • 21,970.

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 is listed below.

Tests reported during the weekend • 39,891 people were tested for the first time. A total of 84,502 people were tested.

Deaths reported in the past four days • 33.

There were 10 deaths in Salt Lake County: three men and a woman ages 45-64, two men and two women ages 65-84, and a man and a woman at least 85 years old.

Washington County reported seven deaths: a man and a woman ages 45-64, and five men ages 65 to 84.

Utah County reported five deaths — a man and a woman ages 45-64, and a man and two women ages 65 to 84.

There were three deaths reported in Iron County: two women ages 65 to 84 and a man age 85 or older.

Two Piute County women died, one age 65-84 and the other at least 85 years old.

Davis, Sevier and Uintah counties each reported the death of a woman aged 45-64, while a woman age 65-84 died in Cache County , and a woman older than 84 died in Sanpete County. A Weber County man age 45-64 also died.

Utahns currently hospitalized with COVID-19 • 738. That is 27 fewer than reported on Friday. Of those currently hospitalized, 194 are in intensive care — 13 fewer than reported on Friday.

Percentage of positive tests • Under the state’s original method, the rate is 55.1% during the weekend. That is higher than the seven-day average of 44.2%.

The state’s new method counts all test results, including repeated tests of the same individual. Friday’s rate was 25%, lower than the seven-day average of 30.1%.

[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 11.4 times as likely to die of COVID-19 as vaccinated people were, according to a Utah Department of Health analysis. The unvaccinated also were 5.2 times as likely to be hospitalized, and 2.3 times as likely to test positive for the coronavirus.

Totals to date • 847,959 cases; 4,063 deaths; 30,375 hospitalizations; 4,716,183 people tested.