‘We’re still at really high rates:’ As Utah COVID cases decline, hospitalizations and deaths compare to previous peaks

“This morning we only have a few open acute care beds,” one Utah doctor says.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) University Hospital in 2021. On Tuesday, the hospital had only "a few open acute care beds and many people who need those beds,” one doctor said.

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As Utah COVID-19 cases continue to drop from January’s peak, hospitalizations, deaths and the rate of tests with positive results remain as high as they were during the virus’s previous surges.

“I want to make sure that’s clear that, although these rates are very quickly decreasing, we’re still at really high rates across our state,” said Erin Clouse, a public health specialist for University of Utah Health.

The Utah Department of Health reported 2,068 new cases during the President’s Day weekend: 848 Friday, 566 Saturday, 379 Sunday and 318 Monday. For the past week, 12.3% of tests have come back positive — a figure that has been topped only during the worst of Utah’s previous surges.

There were 415 Utahns hospitalized with the coronavirus as of Tuesday, down 44 from Friday but still higher than during most of the pandemic. The weeklong average is just under 500 — “just as high as the previous two peaks,” Clouse said.

There were 98 Utahns with COVID-19 in intensive care units. ICUs in the state’s larger “referral” hospitals were at 77.1% capacity, lower than 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 had surpassed 85% occupancy almost continuously since late August, but numbers dropped below that threshold last week. Overall, 71.6% of ICU beds across the state are filled.

However, emergency rooms remained busy, said Dr. Kencee Graves, associate chief medical officer for inpatient health at University Hospital.

“This morning we only have a few open acute care beds and many people who need those beds,” Graves said in a news conference Tuesday. “So I would say that while COVID might be waning in our community, we still do see effects here in the hospital.”

According to state data, 60.9% of Utahns were fully vaccinated as of Friday. However, researchers have found that a booster is crucial to prevent serious illness — and just 26.5% of all Utahns have received a booster dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

The state reported 13 new deaths, including one that occurred before Jan. 22.

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 • 11,323 / 4,928,331.

Number of Utahns fully vaccinated • 1,977,751 — 60.9% of Utah’s total population. That is an increase of 3,307 in the past weekend.

Cases reported during the past weekend • 2,068.

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 weekend • A total of 32,510 people were tested.

Deaths reported since Friday • 13.

Two men ages 25-44 died, one from Salt Lake County and the other from Washington County.

Salt Lake County also reported the deaths of four men ages 65-84 and a man and a woman older than 84.

Weber and Sanpete counties reported the deaths of one man each, ages 45-64. A Carbon County man age 65-84 also died, as did a Uintah County and a Box Elder County man, each older than 84.

Percentage of positive tests • Under the state’s original method, the rate was 15.2% in the past day. That is lower than the seven-day average of 21.2%.

The state’s new method counts all test results, including repeated tests of the same individual. Friday’s rate was 6.4%, lower than the seven-day average of 12.6%.

[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 8.8 times as likely to die of COVID-19 as vaccinated people were, according to a Utah Department of Health analysis. The unvaccinated also were 4.2 times as likely to be hospitalized, and 2.5 times as likely to test positive for the coronavirus.

Totals to date • 920,290 cases; 4,372 deaths; 32,953 hospitalizations; 9,181,047 tests administered.