Coronavirus hospitalizations break another record in Utah as case spike wears on

(AP file photo/Rick Bowmer) Health care workers at the University of Utah Hospital on Thursday, April 30, 2020.

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Utah’s sustained spike in coronavirus cases continued on Saturday, as health officials reported that hospitalizations from the virus had again risen to record heights, with 298 patients receiving active care.

The previous high was recorded Friday, when 290 patients were hospitalized. Overall, 4,610 people have been hospitalized since the beginning of the pandemic.

In total, the state reported that there have been 93,297 positive cases of the virus in Utah, an increase of 1,340 from Friday. There have also been three new deaths, bringing the total number of people who have died from the virus to 540. The deaths included:

  • A Davis County man who was older than 85 and was not hospitalized at the time of death

  • A Salt Lake County woman, who was older than 85 and was living in a long-term care facility

  • A Carbon County man between the ages of 65 and 84 who was hospitalized at time of death

Utah has one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in the nation.

The state had shattered its previous record of 256 for coronavirus hospitalizations on Friday, the same day the University of Utah Hospital said it was bringing in doctors and nurses for overtime shifts to staff new beds after its ICU reached “more than 100% capacity.”

The spike in cases is “unsustainable,” Gov. Gary Herbert said in a statement released with Friday’s coronavirus report. And he urged Utahns, again, to wear masks, socially distance and limit the size of social gatherings.

“Unless we do these things, we can expect to see more sobering days,” he said.

Dr. Russell Vinik, chief medical operations officer at the University of Utah Hospital, said Saturday that the hospital had a better night and saw its capacity ease up a bit, to 94% full. But he doesn’t expect that trend to continue and said he anticipates capacity rates will rise and fall as cases trend upward.

“If we had peaked in cases on Friday, which I hope we did, then we expect it to continue to rise for two to four weeks,” he said. “If [the daily case count] continues to go up through the winter, it could be a really terrible winter.”

Vinik said health care workers are “exhausted, both physically and mentally" as the coronavirus wears on in the state.

“This is very hard on them and then the mental part of not seeing light at the end of the tunnel makes it so much harder,” he said, calling on the public to take proper precautions to prevent the hospitals from overflowing. That includes keeping an appropriate distance from people not in your household, wear face masks and get tested if you have any symptoms.

Jess Gomez, a spokesperson with Intermountain Health Care, said Saturday that the hospital is also seeing high utilization of its intensive care unit beds, which are treating “both COVID patients as well as a lot of non-COVID patients who are in intensive care for a variety of conditions.”

“We’re getting close to capacity but we’re just not there yet. But it’s getting very close," he said.

As hospitalizations reach record highs, Gomez said the health care provider is asking for community to “stand with us" and do their part to keep hospitals from becoming overrun with patients.

“Now more than ever we really need people to step up and to do everything they can to reduce transmissions,” he said. “We continue to say the same things but they’re critically important and unfortunately they’re not being universally used.”

If people follow public health guidance, he said, “we can get a handle on it.”

But at this point, Gomez said "the consequences are falling upon our health care community who are struggling to keep up with the people who need hospital care for COVID and other issues.”

The state Health Department reported Saturday that of the 298 people who are currently hospitalized, 96 are confirmed to be using intensive care unit beds. Utah’s ICU beds were 75% occupied.

There were 9,142 new test results reported on Saturday, as the statewide positive rate remained in the 13% to 14% range that state officials say indicates there are far more people sick than those getting tested. On Saturday, it was at 14%.

For the past week, the Utah Department of Health has tallied 1,236 new positive test results a day, on average, continuing a streak of new record highs.