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Utah sets new daily COVID-19 record and transmission rates worsening

(Gov. Gary Herbert speaking at his monthly news conference with PBS at the Utah State Capitol. Credit, Laura Seitz, Deseret News, October 22, 2020)

SALT LAKE CITY – Extremely frustrating news for doctors and health care workers all across Utah.  The Utah Department of Health is announcing a new record of daily cases, and COVID-19 transmission rates are getting worse.  Governor Gary Herbert says too many people aren’t taking the disease seriously enough.

More than one million people have been tested for COVID-19 in Utah since the pandemic began.  Currently, over 300 people are in the hospital and the Utah Department of Health is reporting 1,543 new daily cases, which is a new record.  Six more deaths have been reported, bringing the grand total to 563.

Intermountain Healthcare Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Edward Stenehjem says, “Our cases are at an all-time high.  Our hospitalizations are at an all-time high and will continue to rise if this trend in cases continues.”

According to Stenehjem, morale is very low among workers in Utah’s hospital.  Doctors and nurses are physically exhausted, emotionally spent and they’re getting angry as the workload continues to climb.  He predicts things are going to get much worse as we approach our typical flu season where people will be closer together indoors with poor ventilation.

“For the first time as a physician, I’m scared to see what’s to come.  I’m scared about the next few months that we will endure here in Utah, unless something changes,” Stenehjem says.

The frustration is clear in the voice of Dr. Angela Dunn, Utah State Epidemiologist.

“I just… I don’t know what to do, anymore,” she says.

Dunn says the state now has a rolling seven-day average of 1,289 new daily cases and a positivity rate of 15.5%.  That indicates that there are many more cases of COVID-19 that are being missed.

“I’m really not trying to scare anyone.  I’m just trying to inform you of what’s going on and give you the facts of where we are in this pandemic,” she says.

(Utah’s map of COVID-19 transmission risk, courtesy UDOH coronavirus website)

Researchers from UDOH released their updated tables on which counties are considered to have a high risk of COVID-19 transmission.  Department Director Rich Saunders says there was a lot of movement on those tables, and none of it was good.  Out of all 29 counties in Utah, 21 are considered high risk.

Saunders says, “Sixteen counties have changed levels this week.  Thirteen counties went from ‘moderate’ to ‘high,’ two went from ‘low’ to ‘high,’ and one went from ‘low’ to ‘moderate.’”

Governor Gary Herbert says not everyone is doing their part to slow the COVID-19 transmission rates by wearing masks and social distancing.  He believes most Utahns are taking the disease seriously, but too many aren’t.

“They’re not taking it as seriously as they could.  They’re not doing all they can do to protect themselves and those around them.”

He says medical professionals are becoming more concerned about the long-term health effects from people who get the virus even though don’t seem to show any symptoms, at first.  Herbert says doctors are spotting heart damage and blood clots in many COVID-19 patients.  He has a 13-year-old granddaughter who became infected and still hasn’t recovered her sense of taste and smell.

Herbert says, “She is actually losing weight because she gets nauseated when she smells food.  It’s hard for her to eat.  Some foods, she just cannot eat.”

State leaders say businesses are doing a good job of enforcing face coverings and social distancing, but small, casual social gatherings are becoming a bigger problem.  For now, these gatherings are still limited to ten people, and masks are still recommended even in family settings.

“It doesn’t matter if you love each other and your family or friends.  That doesn’t make you immune from getting the COVID-19 virus,” according to Herbert.