Utah sets new daily record for COVID-19 cases, as officials warn of a post-Christmas surge

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Pharmacy tech Mikaela Brigino, center, joins other healthcare professionals as they prepare the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine for seniors and staff at assisted living The Ridge Foothill in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020, as the rollout continues at long-term care facilities.

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Utah saw another 4,672 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday — a one-day record for Utah, which Gov.-elect Spencer Cox said could indicate the state will end 2020 and start 2021 with a post-Christmas coronavirus surge.

For the past week, the state has averaged 2,288 new positive test results a day, the Utah Department of Health reported. That’s 255 more than the previous day’s seven-day average.

Utah’s death toll from the coronavirus rose to 1,269 on Thursday, with 13 fatalities reported since Thursday. UDOH identified those 13 Utahns as:

• Two Davis County men, both between the ages of 65 and 84.

• Three Salt Lake County men: One between 45 and 64, the other two older than 85.

• A Tooele County woman older than 85.

• Two Utah County residents: A man between 65 and 84, and a woman older than 85.

• A Washington County man between 65 and 84.

• Four Weber County residents: A woman older than 85; a man between 25 and 44; and two men between 65 and 84.

Active hospitalizations rose Thursday, with 510 patients admitted, UDOH reported.

Utah’s intensive care units were 81.3% occupied as of Thursday, but 85.4% of ICU beds in the state’s largest “referral” hospitals were filled.

The state processed 11,412 tests in the 24-hour period ending midday Thursday. The positivity rate for tests over the last week is 24.4% — an indication, health experts say, that many people with the virus still have not been tested.

UDOH reported 6,230 more vaccines distributed since Wednesday’s report — bringing the total number of residents who have received the shots to 30,200. That’s nearly the same number as the previous two days combined, and reflects the expansion of the vaccine to long-term care facilities and some first responders.

Before Thursday’s report was released, Cox warned Utahns that the state would see “a big increase in cases.”

“It’s possibly the beginning of a holiday-related surge,” Cox wrote in a tweet thread Thursday morning.

“Fortunately we only saw a small surge related to Thanksgiving. But our fear is that people were less cautious during Christmas.”

Twice in November, UDOH reported larger case counts than Thursday’s number; one reflected a glitch in data reporting from the previous day, the other compensated for a lack of a daily report on Thanksgiving.

In its report, UDOH included a statement that said Thursday’s high case count was “a sobering reminder that we are still in this battle.”

The department urged people who traveled over the Christmas holiday or visited with people outside their households to “assume that you may have been exposed and please limit your interaction with others.”

Those people should also get tested if they have COVID-19 symptoms, “even if they are mild,” the department said. People who are tested should stay home until they get their results. Those who test negative should still limit interactions with others for 10 days. Those who test positive should isolate home for at least 10 days after the first sign of symptoms or the day they were tested, the department said.

Cox, who takes the oath as Utah’s 18th governor on Monday, also issued a plea to Utahns thinking about partying to ring out 2020: “If you are planning large gatherings to celebrate New Year’s Eve, please reconsider.”

He noted the state’s “early vaccine rollout has been slower than we planned for, [but] the past couple days have been very encouraging.” He added that regional health departments have been ramping up their vaccine capacity, and long-term care facilities received their first doses this week.

“There is so much reason to be hopeful and optimistic as we enter the new year, but we must remain vigilant,” Cox concluded.

UDOH won’t be reporting case counts on Friday, observing the New Year’s Day holiday. The first report of 2021 will be issued Saturday.