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Health officials worried about potential COVID-19 spread over the holiday

Despite a lower number of coronavirus cases reported over the holiday weekend, health officials say nearly 30% of tests came back positive. (PHOTO: Utah Department of Health building in Salt Lake City, Paul Nelson KSL Newsradio)

SALT LAKE CITY – Health officials are making a dire prediction about current COVID-19 trends.  They say if those trends continue, hospitals across the state will be overwhelmed.  They’re urging everyone to keep public health top of mind as they celebrate Independence Day.

The latest COVID-19 numbers in Utah don’t show any general decline in the spread of the virus.  On Thursday, the Utah Department of Health announced 554 new confirmed cases and three more deaths, bringing the state’s total to 176.  The recent dramatic spike in cases is causing a lot of strain on Utah’s hospital system.

“In the last month, the number of people with COVID in hospitals nearly doubled.  So, we can’t keep doubling,” says UDOH Epidemiologist Keegan McCaffrey.

Older people are still more at risk of hospitalization after catching the virus, but McCaffrey says too many younger people are helping it spread.  He says the fastest-growing rates of infection are happening among Utah’s younger and work-aged residents.

“As of right now in Utah, we have almost as many people 25-44 be hospitalized as people 65-84 be hospitalized,” he says.

Recent reports say COVID-19 has been found to spread more prominently in places like restaurants, bars and parties and not so much at large events like rallies and protests.  However, McCaffrey says tracking the viral spread is a complicated thing, especially when so many people are interacting with each other.

McCaffrey says, “As people are having more exposures, generally, it becomes more difficult to find out exactly which exposure infected a person.”

Health officials are clearly concerned about the potential spread over the Fourth of July weekend, especially when so many families are planning barbecues and other parties.  McCaffrey says the CDC has some guidelines about staying safe over the holiday.

“They include asking your guests to bring their own plate and silverware and having only one person do the food prep,” he says.

He also says it’s important to hold the get-togethers outside where ventilation is much better.  If people are staying inside, he still encourages them to wear masks and to maintain their social distance.