Utah reports about 3,500 new COVID-19 cases as hospitalizations rise

New cases are dropping, but infections remain above pre-omicron highs.

(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.

Editor’s note: The Salt Lake Tribune is providing free access to critical stories about the coronavirus. Sign up for our Top Stories newsletter, sent to your inbox every morning. To support journalism like this, please donate or become a subscriber.

Utah reported 3,482 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday — far higher than most days throughout the pandemic, but further evidence that a January surge of infections fueled by the highly contagious omicron variant may be winding down.

Hospitalizations rose in the past day, however. There were 787 Utahns hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Thursday, the Utah Department of Health reported, up from Wednesday’s 781 and far higher than the record before January — 606, in December 2020. State officials last week announced that a data error had caused inaccuracies in hospital counts for months, significantly undercounting them in recent weeks.

There were 196 COVID patients in intensive care units statewide as of Thursday, an increase from Wednesday. ICUs in the state’s larger “referral” hospitals were at 96.1 % capacity, up sharply from Wednesday and again exceeding 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 those larger hospitals have surpassed 85% occupancy almost continuously since late August. Statewide, 91.9% of all ICU beds were filled as of Thursday.

The Utah Department of Health on Tuesday also confirmed 10 new COVID-19 deaths, bringing the total since the pandemic began to 4,160.

Thursday marked the 5th consecutive day that fewer than 4,000 new cases were reported in Utah. The weeklong average was 3,774 cases per day — still higher than at any time in the pandemic before the omicron variant began sweeping across the state, but lower than last month’s peak average of nearly 11,000 cases per day.

January’s average also was likely was a drastic undercount, as state officials urged most Utahns not to get tested even if they developed symptoms, because the influx of new patients was causing test sites to be overrun and draining test supplies statewide.

According to state data, 60% of Utahns were fully vaccinated as of Thursday — a figure that has been inching upward for weeks. However, researchers have found that a booster is crucial to prevent serious illness — and less than 25% of all Utahns have received a booster dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

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 • 4,130 / 4,814,055.

Number of Utahns fully vaccinated • 1,950,277 — 60% of Utah’s total population. That is an increase of 1,272 in the past day.

Cases reported in the past day • 3,482.

Vaccination status • Health officials do not immediately have to 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 22,853 people were tested.

Deaths reported in the past day • 10.

Salt Lake County reported five men died: one age 25-44, two ages 45-64, and two ages 65-84.

Washington County reported the deaths of two men — one age 45-64 and the second age 65-84.

Three other counties each reported one death. Weber and Millard counties each reported the death of a man between the ages 65-84, and a Utah County man older than 84 also died.

Utahns currently hospitalized with COVID-19 • 787. That is 6 more than reported Wednesday. Of those currently hospitalized, 196 are in intensive care — up 13 from Wednesday.

Percentage of positive tests • Under the state’s original method, the rate was 38.6% on Wednesday. That is lower than the seven-day average of 41.4%.

The state’s new method counts all test results, including repeated tests of the same individual. Tuesday’s rate was 15.2%, lower than the seven-day average of 25.4%.

[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 9.2 times as likely to die of COVID-19 as vaccinated people were, according to a Utah Department of Health analysis. The unvaccinated also were 4.7 times as likely to be hospitalized, and 2.3 times as likely to test positive for the coronavirus.

Totals to date • 895,459 cases; 4,160 deaths; 31,682 hospitalizations; 8,957,770 tests administered.