Another 622 cases of COVID-19 in Utah; Gov. Herbert weighing options for regulations

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As Utah’s rate of new coronavirus cases continued to rise on Monday, Gov. Gary Herbert said he would wait at least another day before enacting any new restrictions.

But pressure to step up prevention efforts grew, with one Republican lawmaker calling for Herbert to require masks.

“If we have county leaders that continue to abdicate their responsibilities, then I don’t really see any other option but to go ahead and do a statewide mandate,” said state Sen. Deidre Henderson, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, running with current Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox. “The latest spike is maybe testament that we need to maybe do a little bit more as a government, unfortunately.”

With 622 new coronavirus cases reported by the Utah Department of Health on Monday, the state has averaged 847 new positive test results per day for the past week — far exceeding July’s top weeklong average of 671 new daily cases.

Herbert had said he would meet with other state officials on Monday to determine what, if any, new restrictions might be undertaken in response to the recent surge in new cases — but his spokeswoman said he would announce no policy changes until Tuesday.

When asked what proposals Herbert was considering, his spokeswoman Anna Lehnardt said: “Everything is on the table,” repeating his description from last week.

Although the state had not updated its coronavirus “response scoreboard” for more than a week, it appears that some of the health measures have strayed farther from the goals set in Herbert’s latest “accountability” plan. The goals include keeping weeklong averages to fewer than 400 new cases per day — a target Utah met in mid-August but surpassed again on Sept. 3 as cases among young adults exploded.

But the state’s key metric under Herbert’s plan — a coronavirus death rate of less than 1% — stayed at 0.7% on Monday, and younger patients continued to drive new cases. Since late August, the weeklong rates of new cases among patients ages 15 to 24 have more than tripled, from 98 new cases per day to 336 new cases per day as of Monday. During the first week of September, the age group overtook 25- to 44-year-olds as Utah’s biggest contributor of new cases, despite comprising a far smaller portion of the state’s population.

Utah’s death toll from the coronavirus rose to 441 on Monday, with one fatality reported since Sunday: a Salt Lake County man, older than 85, who died in a hospital.

The virus continued to spread quickly in Utah County, which recorded 227 new cases Monday — down from recent days, but still the most per capita of any county in the state. For the past seven days, Utah County has averaged more than 56 new cases a day per 100,000 residents, more than double the statewide average of 26. By comparison, Salt Lake County’s average per 100,000 residents was 27 new cases per day, and the Bear River Health District in northern Utah was at 21 per 100,000.

Brigham Young University, which has experienced the worst campus outbreak since fall term began, reported 927 cases as of Sunday, up 165 cases in two days.

As of Monday afternoon, neither Utah County officials nor Provo’s mayor had responded to inquiries made by The Salt Lake Tribune Monday morning. The county, which is at the “yellow” or “low” restriction level, had not updated local case numbers on its website since Friday. At that time, Provo, Mapleton, Lindon, Orem, Cedar Hills, Highland, Alpine and Saratoga Springs all had averaged more than 40 new daily cases per 100,000 residents for the previous week.

Henderson said Monday that Utah County, where she’s from, “needs to have a mask mandate, for sure.”

Speaking in a Zoom interview with The Tribune for supporters of the paper’s Report From America positions, Henderson said she prefers “the local government approach,” but would support state-imposed restrictions to slow the spread of the virus.

Henderson — who represents Spanish Fork in the Legislature — announced in August that she was diagnosed with COVID-19, and told The Tribune Monday that she just recently recovered, after spending three weeks on oxygen.

“I know that it’s not a cold. It’s not a flu. It’s very different from anything I’ve ever experienced,” she said. “I’ve been a little bit disappointed lately at the division that’s been happening and the rancor and just the polarization and the politicization of wearing a mask. …

“Wearing a mask is not about the person wearing the mask. It is about the person wearing the mask not potentially spreading their disease to someone else,” Henderson said.

Hospitalizations continued to rise on Monday, with 144 Utah patients concurrently admitted, UDOH reported. On average, 131 patients have been receiving treatment in Utah hospitals each day for the past week — up from a week ago, but below the peak average of 211 patients hospitalized each day at the end of July.

In total, 3,520 patients have been hospitalized in Utah for COVID-19, up 26 from Sunday.

Utah’s intensive care units were 67.7% occupied as of Monday; the state’s goal is to keep the level below 85%.

There were 3,886 new test results reported on Monday, far below the weeklong average of 5,767 new tests per day. Testing demand had risen precipitously in the past week but generally remained below its peak in mid-July, when the state was reporting more than 7,000 new test results per day, on average.

Since public schools began opening on Aug. 13, there have been 66 outbreaks in schools, affecting 461 patients, with 2 new outbreaks and 41 new cases reported in the past day.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, there have been 506 patients infected in 77 school outbreaks, with a median age of 16. Twelve of those patients have been hospitalized; none have died.

The virus is spreading particularly rapidly in the Canyons School District of southeast Salt Lake County, where cases jumped from 156 to 194 in two days, and three of the district’s six high schools have surpassed 15 cases in the past two weeks — the threshold at which the state recommends stopping in-person classes.

Brighton High School also has more than 15 active cases, but remains open for classes, and Alta High School on Monday surpassed 15 active cases, according to county data.

Draper Park Middle School was at 13 active cases on Friday, according to the district, but it the count remained under 15 as of Monday, the county reported.

Meanwhile, Riverton High School in the Jordan School District also remained open on Monday despite identifying at least 15 active cases, Salt Lake County reported. The school board last week voted to close the school for a two-day cleaning and then reopen, in opposition to the state’s recommendation to move to online-only classes.

Of 64,394 Utahns who have tested positive for COVID-19, 51,660 are considered “recovered” — that is, they have survived for at least three weeks after being diagnosed.

Reporters Bethany Rodgers and Becky Jacobs contributed to this story.

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