Utah reports 5,500 new COVID cases, but newly discovered test inaccuracies suggest undercounting

State officials confirmed 18 new COVID-19 deaths as hundreds remain hospitalized.

(Rachel Rydalch | The Salt Lake Tribune) EMT, Charles Ledbetter, guides a patient in their car on how to do a self coronavirus test in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Feb. 3, 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 about 5,500 new COVID-19 cases over the weekend, with possible testing inaccuracies likely leading to undercounting.

Deaths and hospitalizations remained high Monday, despite the apparent continuing decline in cases.

The Utah Department of Health reported 2,505 new cases Friday, 1,724 new cases on Saturday and 1,324 new cases on Sunday, for a weekend total of 5,504 announced Monday.

There were 709 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in Utah as of Monday, down 73 from Friday but far higher than the record before January — 606, in December 2020. State officials last month announced that a data error had caused inaccuracies in hospital counts for months, significantly undercounting them in recent weeks.

As of Monday, there were 174 COVID patients in intensive care units throughout the state. ICUs in Utah’s larger “referral” hospitals were at 85.5 % capacity, 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, 82.7% of all ICU beds were filled as of Monday.

Health officials on Monday also confirmed 18 new COVID-19 deaths, bringing the total in Utah since the pandemic began to 4,191. Four of the deaths announced Monday occurred before Jan. 7.

New COVID-19 cases have been trending downward since they peaked in January at more than 13,000 new diagnoses in a single day. The state has averaged 2,611 new cases a day for the past week — but reliability concerns with rapid tests administered at state-sponsored sites have raised questions as to the accuracy of those numbers.

State health officials on Sunday announced they were suspending rapid testing at Utah’s free, public testing sites after epidemiologists analyzed results from 18,000 Utahns who received both rapid antigen and lab-processed PCR tests on the same day. More than 60% of those who were infected with COVID-19 received false negative results on their rapid antigen tests.

It is unclear how many more cases would have been identified before Sunday had the tests been more sensitive. The state began using GenBody rapid antigen tests in late December as supplies of the previously-used BinaxNow tests ran low amid a nationwide surge of COVID-19 cases.

The BinaxNow tests also appeared to be less sensitive than PCR tests, according to the state’s analysis. But the disparity was less significant: less than 1/3 of those who received a BinaxNow test and a PCR test received false negative results from the BinaxNow test.

State test sites will still conduct PCR testing and offer at-home COVID-19 tests to anyone who receives a PCR test but wants to receive results faster. The BinaxNow rapid tests may later be reintroduced at Utah testing sites should the state’s supply chain stabilize, health officials advised.

According to state data, 60.1% of Utahns were fully vaccinated as of Monday. 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 weekend/total doses administered • 5,736 / 4,823,384.

Number of Utahns fully vaccinated • 1,950,277 — 60.1% of Utah’s total population. That is an increase of 2,660 during the weekend.

Cases reported during the weekend • 5,504.

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 during the weekend • A total of 41,949 people were tested.

Deaths reported during the weekend • 18.

Salt Lake County reported 10 deaths: a man and a woman ages 45-64; three women and two men ages 65-84; and two men and a woman older than 84.

Three Washington County residents died: a man age 25-44, a woman age 65-84 and a woman older than 84.

A Carbon County woman age 45-64 also died, as did women ages 65-84 from Box Elder and Cache Counties.

A man age 65-84 from Juab County also died, as did a Davis County woman older than 84.

Utahns currently hospitalized with COVID-19 • 709. That is 73 fewer than reported Friday. Of those currently hospitalized, 174 are in intensive care — down eight from Friday.

Percentage of positive tests • Under the state’s original method, the rate was 33.1% for the weekend. That is lower than the seven-day average of 36.7%.

The state’s new method counts all test results, including repeated tests of the same individual. The weekend’s rate was 13.1%, lower than the seven-day average of 21.9%.

[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 7.8 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 2.4 times as likely to test positive for the coronavirus.

Totals to date • 903,771 cases; 4,191 deaths; 31,985 hospitalizations; 9,016,942 tests administered.