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Making sense of: More COVID cases, but falling death rates?

FILE -- National Health Service (NHS) workers are tested for Coronavirus (Covid-19) at a drive through testing site on April 07, 2020 in Wolverhampton, England. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY— You’ve seen the headlines. Virus cases are booming across the country, and teeming in states like Florida, Texas, and Arizona.  Utah’s cases have surged as well.  But these facts are accompanied by some mitigating statistics:  At this time, COVID death rates are actually going down.

Some doctors are quick to say that this is the tip of a delayed iceberg, and lives lost will soon catch up.  That’s because health experts say that mortality rates are an indicator of what things were like almost a month ago.

 “The sinking death rates reflect the state of the pandemic a month or more ago, experts say, when the original hot spots had been contained and other states had only just begun to open up restaurants and other businesses. That means it could still be another few weeks before we really start to see the consequences, in lives lost, of the recent spikes in cases,”  policy reporter Dylan Scott writes.

Salt Lake County Health Department Epidemiologist Michelle Vowles is realistic about the death counts.  “It’s great to see we’re seeing lower death rates, but we don’t know what that means for us.  We’re not seeing an increase in our death numbers, yet.”  Vowles does offers a few explanations, however, on why death counts are receding that actually offers a bit of hope. 

Vowles says we’re seeing a “shift” of the virus to a younger population.  A younger demographic that doesn’t get the more of the complications of COVID.  She notes that the Beehive State is a prime example.  “We do tend to have a healthy and young population [in comparison to other states] so that’s an advantage.”  Vowles says that the older population and at risk populations “are doing more to protect themselves… lessening fatalities.” 

Finally, a theory that Vowles says is being explored by European researchers:  That the pathogen has changed. “A shift in the coronavirus itself in maybe being more contagious and less deadly.  But we don’t have any evidence yet that that’s [happening in the States.]”


How To Prevent the Spread of COVID-19 Coronavirus

COVID-19 coronaviruses transmitted from person to person. It is a virus that is similar to the common cold and the flu. So, to prevent it from spreading:

  • Wash hands frequently and thoroughly, with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds.
  • Don’t touch your face.
  • Keep children and those with compromised immune systems away from someone who is coughing or sneezing (in this instance, at least six feet)
  • If there is an outbreak near you, practice social distancing (stay at home, instead of going to the movies, sports events, or other activities.)
  • Get a flu shot.

Local resources

KSL Coronavirus Q&A

Utah’s Coronavirus Information

Utah State Board of Education

Utah Hospital Association

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Utah Coronavirus Information Line – 1-800-456-7707

National Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Commonly asked questions, World Health Organization

Cases in the United States