14 more Utahns die of COVID-19. And, yes, we’re still in a surge.

Measuring community transmission is ‘very difficult now,’ a leading Utah doctor said.

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Fourteen more Utahns died of COVID-19 in the past week, as the state continues to experience a surge in coronavirus infections — although it’s impossible to measure the number of positive cases.

“It’s very difficult now to accurately determine how much community transmission we have,” said Dr. Brandon Webb, chair of Intermountain Healthcare’s COVID-19 therapeutics team. The primary reason is that much less testing is being done, and much of what is being done is by home tests, which is not reported publicly. “So we’re only able to have visibility on a fraction of the cases in the community.”

Another 6,935 cases of the coronavirus were reported in the past week, 471 fewer than the previous week. Since the pandemic began, there have been almost 990,000 cases reported in the Beehive State.

In the past week, the state’s seven-day average of new cases fell to 990.7, down from 1050.4 the previous week.

Although those numbers tells only part of the story, “we do have other surrogates,” Webb said, including “test positivity, which has been very, very high over the last several weeks.”

Counting all test results, including multiple tests of the same individual, the positivity rate in the past week rose to 28.36%, up from 25.97% the previous week. Not counting repeated test results, the rate was 35.55%, up from 32.9% the previous week.

“That tells us what we already knew in the health care world, which is that we do have a lot of COVID in the community right now,” Webb said. “So, yes, we are in a surge. We do have a lot of community transmission, but it’s hard to put a number on it accurately.”

Although the number of hospitalizations rose in the past week, they remain at a level that doesn’t overtax hospital staffs, he said.

Along with the 14 people whose deaths were reported in the past week, the Utah Department of Health and Human Services said that one death reported a week ago was retracted, because it erroneously was reported twice. That raises the overall death count by 13, to 4,847 since the pandemic began, the state health department said.

Thirteen of the 14 who died were ages 65 and older, and four were 85 or older.

The good news is that both deaths and hospitalizations are just a fraction of what they were at the height of the pandemic.

“The rate of hospitalization has decreased dramatically as we’ve increased our immunity at large within the population,” Webb said. And that’s the result of both vaccinations and the so-called “herd immunity.”

“The net immunity in our community has substantially grown over the last year,” he said, as a result of vaccinations and people contracting the coronavirus. “The natural infection and vaccination both lead to some immunity. And although we’re seeing reinfections and new strains that are able to escape that immunity, what we’re not seeing are nearly the same numbers of severe cases requiring hospitalization, ICU care or death. That’s the biggest effect that we’re seeing from having this net community immunity increase over time. …

“So from that standpoint, we should definitely feel optimistic, at least right now, that the current strains — while very common in our community — are not causing the same degree of impact, both on the personal level, but also at the level of straining the healthcare system or putting a burden on our economy.”

Webb emphasized that those who are at the most risk should take the most precautions to prevent catching COVID.

“The big takeaways still remain the same. Number one is to know your risk,” Webb said. For people who are “healthy and younger, there’s very, very little risk of hospitalization with severe COVID. But there are still groups who are at higher risk.”

That includes not just people who are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated, but vaccinated people with compromised immune systems, or who are pregnant, or who are older and have multiple underlying medical conditions.

“Those are the groups that we want to be aware of their risk, make wise choices about what they do and don’t do. And also be aware of treatments that are available because the treatments that are available really are targeted toward those individuals and those high risk categories.”

In the past seven days, 19,628 people were tested, 4,054 fewer than the week before.

Instead of case numbers experts are looking at other metrics, like hospitalizations and emergency room visits, to judge the severity of coronavirus outbreaks. State data also shows an increase in emergency room visits.

Officials urge those who test positive or have COVID-19 symptoms to stay home to avoid infecting others. Isolation guidance is available at coronavirus.utah.gov/protect-yourself.

They also urge Utahns to get up-to-date on COVID-19 vaccines, which can prevent serious illness.

COVID-19 hospitalization rates

Data shows coronavirus patients made up 5.76% of emergency room visits in the past week, up from 5.2% the previous week.

Since last week, 314 more Utahns have been hospitalized with coronavirus, bringing the total to 36,186 patients hospitalized since the pandemic began. There were 259 COVID-19 patients in Utah hospitals as of Thursday, 43 more than a week ago.

The number of COVID-19 patients in ICUs decreased by 20, to 48.

The state reported 10,388 more Utahns received a COVID-19 vaccine since June 30, the last time it released data. About 62.6% of Utahns — a total of 2,032,878 — are fully vaccinated, and 29.5% have received at least one booster shot, the data shows.

Breakdown of updated figures

Vaccine doses administered in the past week/total doses administered • 10,388 / 5,265,613.

Number of Utahns fully vaccinated • 2,032,878 — 62.6% of Utah’s total population.

Cases reported in the past week: 6,935.

Average cases per day reported in the past week • 990.7.

Tests reported from June 30-July 6 • 19,628.

Deaths reported in the past week • 14.

Salt Lake County reported five deaths: Two men and three women, all between the ages of 65 and 84.

There were three deaths in Utah County: A woman 65-84, and a man and a woman, each 85-plus. And there were two deaths in Davis County: A man 65-84, and a man 85-plus.

The other deaths were a Box Elder County man 65-84; a Cache County woman 65-84; a Carbon County woman 65-84; and a Summit County woman 45-64.

Hospitalizations reported this week • 259 as of Thursday, an increase of 43 in the past week. There were 48 patients in intensive care, 20 more than reported a week ago.

Totals to date • 987,767 cases; 4,847 deaths; 36,186 hospitalizations.