SALT LAKE CITY — A new record number of COVID-19 cases was reported Thursday in Utah.
An increase of 1,543 cases brings the state’s total number of known infections to nearly 100,000, after now more than 1 million Utahns have been tested for the pervasive virus, according to the Utah Department of Health.
“I don’t know what to do anymore,” state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn said. She said individuals have to take responsibility in order to stop the rising surge in infections happening throughout the state.
“Not everybody is responding in a very positive way as far as doing their part when it comes to slowing the spread of the pandemic,” said Utah Gov. Gary Herbert. He said that until a vaccine becomes available, all we can do is work to minimize the risk of contracting the novel coronavirus.
“It’s like a broken record,” Herbert said during his monthly news conference with PBS Utah on Thursday. He and others who spoke continued to plead with Utahns to do “the right thing,” and “do your part” to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Utah.
Sixteen counties were moved to high transmission status on Thursday, indicating a greater risk of contracting the disease in those locations, according to Utah’s new COVID-19 Transmission Index.
Those areas include Beaver, Box Elder, Cache, Carbon, Davis, Emery, Garfield, Grand, Juab, Millard, Morgan, Salt Lake, San Juan, Sanpete, Sevier, Summit, Tooele, Utah, Wasatch, Washington and Weber counties.
Duchesne, Iron and Uintah counties are at a moderate transmission level; and Daggett, Kane, Piute, Rich and Wayne counties remain low level transmission counties.
The move signals tighter restrictions for high transmission levels, including limited gathering sizes to fewer than 10 people. Moderate transmission level counties also have limited gathering sizes until Oct. 29 and low transmission level counties are permitted to have gatherings up to 25 people for the time being.
Masks should be worn in all counties, regardless of transmission level, said Rich Saunders, the health department’s interim executive director.
“People need to continue to live life to the fullest but with caution,” he said, adding that people over age 65 and those with underlying conditions should remain extra cautious.
Herbert said most people in Utah aren’t dying from COVID-19, as fewer than 1% have so far. But, he added, “we don’t know the long-term impacts on society and on us individually.”
“That is something we all ought to be concerned about,” he said.
Because of high disease transmission rates across the state, in concordance with a change in seasons, Herbert said hospitals are starting to fill up. He said the state is “gearing up” to open the nearly 50,000-square-foot Mountain America Expo Center in Sandy for anticipated hospital overflow.
“For the first time in this, as a physician, I’m scared to see what’s to come,” Dr. Eddie Stenehjem, Intermountain Healthcare’s medical director of infectious disease, said on Thursday. He said that while his organization has been planning for a surge in patients, and is already transferring them between hospitals, he doesn’t want to get to the point where all patients don’t have access to high-quality care.
“Our caregivers are putting themselves in harm’s way every single day,” he said. “We’re frustrated at people not following simple public health guidelines.”
“I’m also saddened by the loss of life and suffering endured by our patients that could have been prevented,” Stenehjem said.
Social interactions are reportedly the biggest problem right now in Utah, the governor said, as too many are too trusting and the virus is spreading too easily.
“It doesn’t matter if you love each other or are family or friends. That doesn’t make you immune to COVID-19,” Herbert said. “If we all do our part, we can bend the curve.”
The rolling seven-day average number of positive tests in Utah is at 1,288 per day, with an average percent of positive laboratory tests at another record high of 15.5%.
There are 301 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Utah, occupying 20% of intensive care unit beds throughout the state, Dunn said. Overall, ICUs are at 73.9% capacity now, stretching hospital staff and requiring the transfer of patients with less critical needs.
“Utahns are tired, exhausted and scared … I get it,” she said, stressing that “this isn’t going to be forever.”
“I do know we will get through this and we’ll do it by coming together as a team,” Dunn said.
Another six COVID-19-related deaths were also announced Thursday in Utah, including a Davis County man between the ages of 65 and 84 who was hospitalized when he died; a Garfield County man over age 85; a Juab County woman between the ages of 65 and 84 who was hospitalized; a man and a woman, both between the ages of 45 and 64 and both residents in Salt Lake County, one of whom was hospitalized and the other not at the time of their deaths; and a Utah County man between the ages of 65 and 84 who was also hospitalized at the time of his death.
It brings the total number of Utah lives lost due to COVID-19 to 563.
The state considers more than 73,586 cases of the total COVID-19 cases in the state confirmed since mid-March to be recovered.
“We have a good plan in pace,” Herbert said. “But, it’s only as good as we’re willing to modify our behaviors.”
He mentioned Utah isn’t the only state to be experiencing record numbers of infections and surging cases, but said the state will not be safe it it continues.
“What we have going on right now is not sustainable,” he said. “It should cause us all alarm.”
For more information regarding COVID-19 cases in Utah, or to schedule a COVID-19 test, visit coronavirus.utah.gov.