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Utah doctor calls COVID-19 ‘pandemic of personal moral character’ as state again has record hospitalizations

“It could have been over with a long time ago,” Intermountain doctor says as state reports 10 new deaths.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Health care workers perform COVID-19 testing at Intermountain Park City Hospital on Thursday, August 20, 2020.

As COVID-19 hospitalizations reach record highs and a statewide test shortage obscures true case counts, one Utah doctor says the coronavirus has become “a pandemic of personal moral character.”

“It’s a disease and a pandemic that could end. It could have ended long ago if we could just put the needs of others ahead of our own,” said Dr. Wing Province, medical director at Park City Hospital. “... It just takes each one of us ... to put the needs of others ahead of our own, to go and to wear a mask when you’re in public, to get vaccinated and boosted.”

Utah reported 6,166 new COVID-19 cases Friday as well as another record number of patients hospitalized with the virus.

The Utah Department of Health reported 854 Utahns were hospitalized with COVID-19 on Friday, up from Thursday’s 843. Before January, the record number of hospitalized COVID patients was 606, in December 2020. State officials on Thursday announced that a data error had caused inaccuracies in hospital counts for months, significantly undercounting them in recent weeks.

There were 184 COVID patients in intensive care units as of Friday. ICUs in the state’s larger, “referral” hospitals were at 91.2% 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, 89.1% of all ICU beds are filled.

The state on Friday also confirmed 10 new COVID-19 deaths, bringing the total since the pandemic began to 4,107.

Province noted that U.S. coronavirus deaths have now eclipsed the combat death toll of any U.S. war.

“Just to put that in perspective: 875,000 and counting from a disease, compared to 290,000 from World War II, 200,000 from the Civil War,” Province said a news conference this week. “If you combine all the wars that we’ve had since World War II, we still have not had as many deaths in those wars as we’ve had from this war that we’re currently fighting against COVID-19. And this is a unique war that is preventable.”

With Utah’s intensive care units over capacity for months and hospitals losing staff to illness and burnout, Province said coronavirus patients amount to one-quarter to one-third of all admissions at most hospitals; doctors have said that before COVID-19, it was virtually unheard of for hospitals to admit such a high percentage of patients for one illness.

“To actually think it could have been over with a long time ago, had proper ... health measures been taken by the public,” Province said. “We’re just as tired of this as you are. We’d love to go back to our normal lives. We’d love to not go to work and every time we go, worry about being exposed to a disease that we can bring home and infect our families with. We want it to be over with, too.”

The state has been undercounting cases as it has tried to ration COVID-19 tests. Health officials have urged Utahns not to get tested unless they have health risks or are likely to be in close contact with someone who does, and testing volumes have dropped since since mid-January, when testing sites were overrun with patients.

That recommendation likely has kept many cases from being diagnosed, hiding the state’s true infection levels.

The rate of tests with positive results remains extremely high at 30.2% for the past week — another indicator that cases are being undercounted. Health experts have said a “percent positivity” of 3% to 5% would indicate that most infections are being diagnosed and the virus is under control.

So, although diagnoses have dropped this week to around 7,000 cases a day — still far above the pre-January peak of about 4,000 — it’s not clear whether that’s because the virus isn’t infecting as many people, or whether people who are infected simply aren’t getting tested.

[Read more: Utah officials still recommend not to get tested for COVID. Here’s why.]

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 • 5,130 / 4,788,998.

Number of Utahns fully vaccinated • 1,943,688 — 59.8% of Utah’s total population. That is an increase of 1,411 in the past day.

Cases reported in the past day • 6,166.

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 28,190 people were tested.

Deaths reported in the past day • 10. Five occurred before Jan. 1, state health officials said.

Salt Lake County reported the deaths of three men ages 65-84 and two women older than 84.

The remaining five deaths came from southeast Utah. Emery County reported the deaths of two men and a woman, ages 65-84, while Carbon County reported the deaths of two women in the same age group.

Utahns currently hospitalized with COVID-19 • 854. That is 11 more than the 843 that UDOH reported Thursday. Of those currently hospitalized, 184 are in intensive care — 10 fewer than reported on Thursday.

Percentage of positive tests • Under the state’s original method, the rate was 52.8% Thursday. That is higher than the seven-day average of 46.6%.

The state’s new method counts all test results, including repeated tests of the same individual. Thursday’s rate was 21.9%, lower than the seven-day average of 30.2%.

[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 11.2 times as likely to die of COVID-19 as vaccinated people were, according to a Utah Department of Health analysis. The unvaccinated also were 4.8 times as likely to be hospitalized, and 2.3 times as likely to test positive for the coronavirus.

Totals to date • 875,251 cases; 4,107 deaths; 31,006 hospitalizations; 8,836,432 tests administered.

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