Utah COVID-19 metrics are increasing, state reports, as health officials urge pandemic isn’t over

Case counts grew by the thousands in the last week, as hospital visits and coronavirus levels founds in sewage also increased.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) A sign encourages face masks at City Creek shopping center in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021. Case counts grew by the thousands in the last week, according to data released Thursday, as hospital visits and coronavirus levels founds in sewage also increased.

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Nearly every metric used to track coronavirus in Utah has increased over the past seven days, according to the Utah Department of Health.

Case counts grew by more than 3,000 for the second consecutive week, as data shows hundreds more people got tested for COVID-19 in the past seven days — and more than 15% of the time, they tested positive.

New cases, however, aren’t the most reliable metric for tracking coronavirus spread, since fewer people are getting tested or will use at-home tests, said Dr. Andrew Pavia, director of hospital epidemiology at Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital and chief of pediatric infectious diseases at University of Utah.

What worries Pavia is the climbing test positivity rate, as well as increases in emergency room visits and COVID-19 levels found in sewage. The good news, Pavia said, is that hospitalization numbers and deaths haven’t surged, although increases in these numbers typically lag behind other metrics.

“But there’s no question that COVID is coming back,” he said. “Our March and April holiday has come to an end.”

The state health department is also watching these metrics. While Utah has shifted into a more reactive stage of its pandemic response, the health department said Thursday that “the disease is still circulating in our communities.” A point reinforced, they said, by Gov. Spencer Cox’s announcement Thursday that he tested positive for coronavirus.

The governor, who is fully vaccinated and received a booster, said in a statement that he feels “fine,” with no serious symptoms.

Living with COVID-19

The health department said that most people who contract the disease will experience mild symptoms like Cox has — especially if they’re fully vaccinated and have gotten a booster. Coronavirus vaccines are the best protection against serious illness, hospitalization and death, the agency said.

“Though almost 70% Utahns have received at least one dose of a vaccine,” the health department said, “too many people have not finished their vaccine series and only 28% of Utahns have received a booster, meaning they do not have the best protection from COVID-19.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends everyone age 5 or older get a coronavirus vaccine. Cox on Thursday urged those who haven’t to get vaccinated.

Since May 5, the state has seen a significant jump in vaccinations, with 24,438 more doses administered compared to 13,540 in the seven days prior to that date. Of those, 3,782 became fully vaccinated, meaning they have had two doses of an mRNA series vaccine, like Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech, or one dose of the Janssen vaccine.

Pavia said that so far, data shows that when communities have some level of immunity, either because of high infection or vaccination rates, breakthrough coronavirus cases aren’t as severe as new variants emerge.

“That provides us some hope that we’ll never see another enormous surge in hospitalizations and deaths similar to what we saw last December and January — or December and January before that — again,” he said. “But I would be really cautious about making assumptions. This virus has surprised us time and time again.”

He added that having two doses of vaccine will likely keep you out of the hospital, but it won’t stop you from feeling terrible. For that reason, he recommended everyone get a booster.

“People shouldn’t be as focused about whether or not they’ll die or end up on a ventilator,” Pavia said, “but whether or not they’re going to spend a miserable week in bed and perhaps suffer from months of ‘long COVID.’”

Right now, Pavia said there is a “really hard line for people to walk,” trying to find a balance between living a normal life and taking precautions against the virus’s increasing spread.

He said people should wear high-quality masks — like an N95 or KN95 — while in crowded, indoor spaces and should host gatherings outdoors when possible. Officials also ought to be thinking of ways to make schools safer, he added.

“But what we don’t need to do is either pretend it’s over — because it’s not — or,” he said, “to go back to more draconian things like shutting down restaurants and theaters, because that’s probably not necessary either.”

The health department said anyone who feels sick should stay home until they feel better. At-home COVID-19 tests are available to order at covid.gov/tests, and testing locations can be found at coronavirus.utah.gov/utah-covid-19-testing-locations.

COVID-19 wastewater levels

Coronavirus levels are elevated or increasing at 66.7% of the 32 wastewater reporting sites across the state, according to the Department of Environmental Quality.

Those municipal wastewater treatment facilities cover roughly 88% of the state’s population.

The state reported Thursday that six sites saw elevated COVID-19 levels. Seventeen sites were listed as under “watch,” meaning officials had detected enough of the virus to indicate “potential concern.” Last week, there was just one site with elevated levels and 12 sites on watch.

While the majority of wastewater sites in Utah reported “low” levels of coronavirus last week, they now make up only 27.3% of sites.

The levels of coronavirus are increasing at 21 — or 63.6% — of sites across the state. Last week, the Price River Water Improvement District in Carbon County was the only site reporting increasing levels.

Levels of the virus plateaued at 11 sites. One site reported insufficient data. There were no sites reporting decreased levels this Thursday.

COVID-19 hospitalization rates

In the last seven days, 1.53% of emergency room patients had COVID-19, up from 1.25% last week. The average number of coronavirus patients in hospitals increased 15.8% to 60.7. The average number of COVID-19 patients is up too, as is the seven-day average for new hospital admissions.

Since last week, 100 more Utahns have been hospitalized with coronavirus, marking 34,447 patients hospitalized throughout the pandemic.

There are currently 77 COVID-19 patients in Utah hospitals, six more than last week. And there are currently 12 COVID-19 patients in the ICU, compared to 11 last Thursday.

Breakdown of updated figures

Vaccine doses administered in the past week/total doses administered • 24,438 / 5,135,865.

Number of Utahns fully vaccinated • 2,018,394 — 62.1% of Utah’s total population. That is an increase of 3,782 in the past seven days.

Cases reported in the past week: 3,385.

Average cases per day reported in the past week • 488.7.

Tests reported from May 5 to May 11 • 21,412.

Deaths reported in the past week • 2.

Both deaths were men from Weber County, both ages 85 or older.

The health department also removed a death from its total tally, bringing the total number of COVID-19 deaths in Utah to 4,761 since the pandemic began — one more than reported last week.

Hospitalizations reported in the past week • 100. There were 77 patients hospitalized on Thursday, 12 of which are in intensive care, one more than reported last week.

Percentage of positive tests • Counting all test results, including repeated tests of the same individual, this week’s rate was 12.15%. That is higher than the previous seven-day average of 9.79%.

Not counting an individual’s repeated test results, this week’s rate was 15.4%, higher than the previous seven-day average of 12.94%.

Totals to date • 938,864 cases; 4,761 deaths; 34,447 hospitalizations.