Feds say Utah had worst COVID-19 rate in the country. Here’s the catch.

Utah’s national ranking may have been overstated, but new data show its infection rate is still one of America’s worst.

(Screenshot via covid.cdc.gov) Data posted Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022, by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show Utah's COVID-19 infection rate was the highest in the nation during the week that ended the previous day. But Utah's data included cases from the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday weekend — a reporting delay not reflected in all states' data.

Utah reported more new coronavirus cases per capita than any other state or U.S. territory in the past week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Tuesday.

The state averaged 3,045.1 new cases per 100,000 residents in the past week, the CDC reported — more than double the national average of 1,459.8.

But the ranking appears to be affected by the state’s reporting delays during the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend. Updated figures Wednesday afternoon show Utah had the fifth-worst infection rate of the 50 states, behind Alaska, Kansas, Minnesota and Arkansas.

The seven days of data used by the CDC in its previous ranking included Tuesday, Jan. 18, when the Utah Department of Health reported new COVID-19 cases diagnosed during the previous four days — one of which was Friday, Jan. 14, when the state posted a record 13,551 new cases.

As of Monday, Utah’s one-week infection rate was ranked the third worst in the nation. The two states that previously outranked Utah’s new cases per capita — Wisconsin and Rhode Island — reported that weekend’s cases on Monday, Jan. 17, which no longer was part of the weeklong tally of cases the CDC posted on Tuesday.

It’s not clear where Utah’s infection rate would have ranked if all states were to report weekend and holiday cases uniformly; Alaska reported the second-highest case rate Tuesday, followed by Palau, Guam and New Mexico.

Utah on Tuesday reported 6,600 new coronavirus cases — the lowest weekday count in weeks, but still much higher than previous surges.

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

The high rate of positive results — more than 30% of tests have been positive in the past week — suggests that cases are being 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%.