Utah reports record high COVID-19 hospitalizations, nearly 7,500 new cases

Test rationing means cases are almost certainly being undercounted.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Christopher Lee, left, is tested for COVID-19 at a center run by Granite School District and the Salt Lake County Department of Health near Thomas Jefferson Junior High in Kearns, Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022.

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Utah reported 7,493 new coronavirus cases Wednesday, continuing a decline in average infection rates that began last week.

But hospitalizations remain at record levels, and the rising rate of positive test results suggests that the decline in reported cases may be due in part to 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. The statewide testing shortage has made it difficult to ascertain true infection levels as the highly-contagious omicron variant sweeps across Utah.

For the past week, Utah has averaged 8,478 new cases per day; before this month, the highest that figure had ever been was 3,392, reported in November 2020.

The high rate of positive test results — nearly 31% of tests have come back positive during the past week — suggests that cases are being undercounted. During the fall case surge, Utah’s “positivity rate” generally held between 9% and 11%. Before this month, it had never risen above 17.8%.

The state confirmed 18 new COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday, bringing the total since the pandemic began to 4,091.

Meanwhile, the number of currently hospitalized COVID-19 patients — a record 776 — is well up 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 (192) 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 89.3% 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. ICUs in Utah’s referral hospitals have remained over capacity continuously since late August, nearly twice as long as during the previous fall and winter.

Statewide, 86.4% of all ICU beds are filled.

In the past two weeks, the state has reported 140 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 day/total doses administered • 10,921 / 4,778,410.

Number of Utahns fully vaccinated • 1,940,858 — 59.7% of Utah’s total population. That is an increase of 1,952 in the past day.

Cases reported in the past day • 7,493.

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 38,879 people were tested.

Deaths reported in the past day • 18.

Salt Lake County reported seven deaths: a woman age 45-64, two women and two men ages 65 to 84, and a woman and a man older than 84.

Four Utah County men died: one age 25-44, one age 45-64 and two ages 65-84.

Weber County reported two new deaths: a man and a woman both ages 45-64. Washington County also reported two deaths: a woman age 65-84 and a man older than 84.

Three others died in Utah: a Summit County man and a Box Elder County woman ages 65-84, and a Cache County man older than 84.

Utahns currently hospitalized with COVID-19 • 747. That is 29 more than reported on Tuesday. Of those currently hospitalized, 192 are in intensive care — three more than reported on Tuesday.

Percentage of positive tests • Under the state’s original method, the rate was 43.8% Wednesday. That is lower than the seven-day average of 46.6%.

The state’s new method counts all test results, including repeated tests of the same individual. Friday’s rate was 19.3%, lower than the seven-day average of 30.6%.

[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 11.1 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 • 862,052 cases; 4,091 deaths; 30,706 hospitalizations; 8,772,475 tests administered.