Utah reports 6,600 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday, near-record hospitalizations

More than 30% of tests are coming back positive, suggesting cases are significantly undercounted.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) A steady line of vehicles filled with multiple people waiting to be tested for Covid19 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 6,600 new coronavirus cases Tuesday — the lowest weekday count in weeks, but still much higher than previous surges.

The rate of positive cases also remains extremely high, suggesting that the reported decline in cases may be in part because of the state’s efforts to ration tests.

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, and a statewide testing shortage has made it difficult to ascertain true infection levels as the highly-contagious omicron variant sweeps across Utah.

But the high rate of positive results — more than 30% of tests have come back positive during the past week — suggests that cases are being significantly undercounted. During the fall case surge, Utah’s “positivity rate” generally held between 9% and 11% and, before this month, it had never risen above 17.8%.

Even with the almost-certain undercounting of cases, Utah’s infection rates are among the worst in the nation. As of Monday the state reported the nation’s third worst COVID-19 infection rate, falling behind only Wisconsin and Rhode Island — two states with positivity rates higher than Utah’s.

Before this month, Utah’s highest single-day case count was 4,706, in December 2020. For the past week, Utah has averaged 9,205 new cases per day; before this month, the highest that figure had ever been was 3,392, reported in November 2020.

The state also reported 10 more COVID-19 deaths on Tuesday, bringing the total since the pandemic began to 4,073.

Utah’s hospitals remained near capacity, according to the Utah Department of Health. The number of currently hospitalized COVID-19 patients — 747 — is up slightly from Tuesday’s 738 and far higher than the record before this month: 606 patients in December 2020.

There are fewer COVID patients in intensive care units now (189) 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 89% 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, 86.4% of all ICU beds are filled.

In the past two weeks, the state has reported 146 children under age 15 were hospitalized with COVID-19.

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 • 4,907 / 4,767,489.

Number of Utahns fully vaccinated • 1,938,906 — 59.7% of Utah’s total population. That is an increase of 1,034 in the past day.

Cases reported in the past day • 6,600.

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 in the past day • A total of 29,025 people were tested.

Deaths reported in the past day • 10.

Davis County reported two men ages 25 to 44 died, as did a man older than 84.

Salt Lake County reported six deaths: two men ages 45 to 64, three men ages 65 to 84 and a woman older than 84.

A Washington County woman between the ages of 65 to 84 also died.

Utahns currently hospitalized with COVID-19 • 747. That is nine more than reported on Monday. Of those currently hospitalized, 189 are in intensive care — five fewer than reported on Monday.

Percentage of positive tests • Under the state’s original method, the rate was 56% Tuesday. That is higher than the seven-day average of 44.9%.

The state’s new method counts all test results, including repeated tests of the same individual. Friday’s rate was 22.7%, 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 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 times as likely to be hospitalized, and 2.3 times as likely to test positive for the coronavirus.

Totals to date • 854,559 cases; 4,073 deaths; 30,537 hospitalizations; 8,733,596 tests administered.