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15 new deaths reported due to COVID-19 in Utah, but not all recent

FILE: A COVID-19 test being given at Glendale Middle School in Salt Lake City. Credit: Spenser Heaps, Deseret News, September 15, 2020

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah health officials reported 15 new deaths due to COVID-19 on Friday, but said a significant number of those were not recent deaths. 

The state recorded 1,107 new positive cases of COVID-19 Friday, for a total of 75,157 since the beginning of the outbreak. The rolling 7-day average for percent of positive laboratory tests remains high at 13.7%. 

COVID-19 deaths in Utah

Of the deaths, the Utah Department of Health says most of them are recent, and the remaining six were spread out between September, August and July. 

“The majority of these cases happened within the last week.  Many of them [happened] in the last three days,” said to Dr. Erik Christensen, Chief Medical Examiner for the state of Utah.

The uptick in recent deaths isn’t a surprise to Christensen, considering the spike in new daily COVID-19 cases.  However, he says every one of those deaths was avoidable, and none of those patients would have died when they did without the virus.

“Our office has seen a notable increase in the number of COVID-related death investigations we have conducted in the past several days,” he said. “While we would expect this increase given the current surge in case counts it does not make these deaths any less tragic.” 

He continued:

Everyday at the Office of the Medical Examiner there are harsh reminders of the seriousness of this disease. I see first-hand the devastating impacts it has on those who are left behind. Let me be clear, these deaths are preventable. None of the individuals who we determine to have died from COVID-19 would have suffered this fate at the time they did had they not been infected with COVID-19.

I implore everyone to help stop the spread of COVID-19 by wearing masks, maintaining physical distancing when you can, and if you are sick please stay away from others – especially those who are at a higher risk for severe illness.

According to a release from the health department, most of the time deaths reported in the daily COVID-19 count do not represent deaths in the previous 24 hours.  Christensen says his office is straining to keep up with the recent case load, and all of the patients require full autopsies, which take a significant amount of time.  Case investigators have to look through medical records to see if a patient had any other health problems, and doctors have to take a close look at every organ to see if the virus led to its failure.

“The deaths we report on a daily basis often occur several days, or even weeks, prior to our reporting them publicly,” the department said. “This is due to the time it takes for deaths to be reported by hospitals, long-term care facilities, or funeral homes to the Office of the Medical Examiner (OME), and for the OME to conduct its death investigation.” 

The recent deaths don’t account for the largest number we’ve seen in the state since the pandemic began.  However, Christensen has serious concerns about future numbers if people don’t wear masks when the travel across the state.

“The largest number of deaths being reported happened back in July.  That tapered off quite a lot through August, but I have concern that we could get back to those numbers,” Christensen said.

The 15 deaths involved patients ranging in ages from 25 to over 85, from various parts of the state.  

Utah hospitals reported 190 patients currently treated for COVID-19. 

State officials consider 56,167 of Utah’s COVID-19 cases to be “recovered,” meaning diagnosis was more than three weeks ago and the patient did not die. 

How To Prevent the Spread of COVID-19 Coronavirus

COVID-19 coronavirus spreads person to person, 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