Utah’s COVID-19 cases declining, but some Salt Lake County residents should still mask up, health director says

Dr. Angela Dunn also urged people to respect masking requests from others.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) People gather as the Salt Lake County Council holds a brief meeting on a January mask mandate, in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. Following updated masking guidance Friday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Salt Lake County residents should still wear a mask in some situations, says Dr. Angela Dunn — who also urged people to respect masking requests from others.

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.

Salt Lake County residents should still wear a mask in some situations, says Dr. Angela Dunn — who also urged people to respect masking requests from others.

“If you enter a business and they require or recommend masks, please respect this and wear a mask; they may have a colleague at high risk who needs that additional protection,” said Dunn, the executive director of the Salt Lake County Health Department, in new guidance released Monday.

“If a family member or friend you see regularly has an underlying health condition, wear a mask in crowded, indoor settings for their sake — or evaluate if you need to be in that setting at all,” she added.

Dunn’s new recommendations follow the Friday release of new advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The new guidance advises only people in “high” risk areas to continue wearing masks. In Utah, two counties are considered high risk: Tooele and San Juan.

Salt Lake County is considered a medium-risk area, along with Beaver, Box Elder, Cache, Daggett, Davis, Duchesne, Garfield, Grand, Iron, Kane, Morgan, Rich, Sanpete, Summit, Uintah, Wasatch, Washington, and Weber counties. In such areas, people at high risk for severe disease should exercise caution, the CDC advised.

“While the pandemic is not over — and I know there continue to be preventable illness, hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID, and that continues to break my heart — we will keep promoting good information and prevention measures,” Dunn said in a news conference Monday.

“And I know I cannot promise that there won’t be another surge or another variant that comes along, that won’t cause us to change our guidelines again,” she said, “what I can promise is that we are staying on top of the latest science.”

Salt Lake County, for example, averaged nine hospitalizations per day during the past week, down from 53 in mid-January — and low for the whole pandemic, not just compared to the peak of the omicron variant, Dunn said.

“We definitely want to keep seeing that decrease, but in terms of the entire two years, that’s still a good sign,” Dunn said.

Statewide, over the weekend, 896 more people tested positive for COVID-19 in Utah, according to the Utah Department of Health, and three more people died.

And the number of people with the coronavirus in Utah hospital has continued to fall. There are currently 326 people in hospitals, 46 fewer than were reported Friday, according to the health department.

ICU bed occupancy also dropped, to 71.2% across the state, and the state’s larger referral hospitals reported 73.9% of its ICU beds were full. The state reports 73 COVID-19 patients in ICU beds.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox earlier this month called on businesses to lift all mask and vaccine requirements, saying the pandemic has shifted such that individual Utahns needed to evaluate their own personal risk “to protect ourselves and to live happily ever after.”

The state also is winding down its COVID-19 response in the next month, shuttering test sites and and ending the daily release of data for coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and death after April 1, instead providing those figures “probably ... more on a weekly basis,” Cox said.

Data from the past three days continues to show that vaccines — and especially boosters — decrease the likelihood that someone dies of COVID-19. The health department said unvaccinated people were at 4.8 times greater risk of dying from the coronavirus, 2.4 times more likely to be hospitalized and were at two times greater risk of testing positive, compared to people who are vaccinated.

The risk of death was 13.5 times greater, comparing unvaccinated people to those who’ve received a COVID-19 booster. The unvaccinated are also 6.4 times more likely to be hospitalized and 2.4 times more likely to test positive for coronavirus than people who’ve had a booster.

Since Friday, 4,877 additional doses of coronavirus vaccines had been administered. But the state’s percentage of fully vaccinated Utahns, and those who’ve received a booster, remain the same at 61 and 26.7%, respectively.

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.

Dunn on Monday advised residents stay up-to-date on COVID-19 vaccines, isolate at home if they experience any symptoms of the virus, wear a high-filtration mask when circumstances apply, seek treatment early if they test positive and are at high risk for serious illness and maintain a healthy lifestyle by eating nutritious foods and getting exercise.

“Please be aware and respectful of what the people around you are doing,” Dunn said, “and also consider the people in your life who may be at higher risk than you.”

Breakdown of updated figures

Vaccine doses administered in the past three days/total doses administered • 4,877 / 4,945,449.

Number of Utahns fully vaccinated • 1,983,041 — 61% of Utah’s total population. That is an increase of 4,877 since Friday.

Cases reported in the past three days • 896.

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 three days • A total of 9,532 people were tested.

Deaths reported Monday • Three people — a man from Salt Lake County, a woman from Utah County and a woman from Iron County — have died of coronavirus since Friday. They are all between the ages of 65 and 84.

Utahns currently hospitalized with COVID-19 • 326. That is 46 fewer than reported on Friday. Of those currently hospitalized, 73 are in intensive care — 28 fewer than on Friday.

Percentage of positive tests • Under the state’s original method, the rate was 9.4% for the past three days. That is lower than the seven-day average of 15.4%.

The state’s new method counts all test results, including repeated tests of the same individual. The weekend’s rate was 4.2%, lower than the seven-day average of 8.9%.

[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 4.8 times as likely to die of COVID-19 as vaccinated people were, according to a Utah Department of Health analysis. The unvaccinated also were 2.4 times as likely to be hospitalized, and 2 times as likely to test positive for the coronavirus.

Totals to date • 922,852 cases; 4,411 deaths; 33,213 hospitalizations; 9,229,690 tests administered.