SALT LAKE CITY — Utah health experts say there are signs of optimism even as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to climb in the state.
There are now 346 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Utah, according to numbers released by the Utah Department of Health on Wednesday. It's a jump of 48 confirmed cases in Utah since the department's last report Tuesday.
After the state’s update on COVID-19 cases, the Southwest Utah Public Health Department reported two new cases bringing the district’s total to seven cases, with six in Washington County and one in Iron County. The two new cases appear to be community spread, officials said, and bring the state's total to 348 cases.
Health officials have reported smaller increases in positive results in the past few days. Wednesday’s number, not including the two new Southwest Utah cases, is about a 16% increase in new confirmed cases, which is about the same percentage increase as Tuesday. The state reported a 42% spike on Monday and a 43% jump on Saturday.
It's still too early to know if it means if Utah is "flattening the curve" in regards to the number of reported cases in the state, but Utah Department of Health state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn said she’s hopeful the slowdown in growth is a sign that social distancing measures are working in the state.
“Right now, we’re not seeing an exponential increase in cases, day to day. That’s a good sign,” she said during a press conference Wednesday. “We encourage all Utahns to continue being vigilant in terms of staying in small groups, staying home — especially if you’re vulnerable — and only leaving the house for critical services. And hopefully, that’ll hold true and we’ll continue to see a decline in the rate of cases we see every day.”
The department's new numbers come as U.S. numbers continue to dramatically rise. There are more than 62,000 cases and 800 deaths reported nationwide, according to Johns Hopkins University's Coronavirus Resource Center as of Wednesday afternoon. Those numbers seem to steadily grow by the minute.
Several states, such as New York, have reported strains on their health care systems as a result of COVID-19. About 10% of Utah's cases have required hospitalization so far, which has helped the state's hospitals.
Even as Utah's cases have slowed down in recent days, Dunn said the state is still preparing for a possibility of larger increases in the near future. That could also mean an uptick in COVID-19-related hospitalizations.
She added that health officials will continue to recommend social distancing measures until they see "a big decline in cases." Since they are still seeing growth, that won't be anytime soon.
"I think we, in Utah, definitely need to learn from the states that are experiencing big jumps in cases before us so we know how to prevent them," Dunn said. "We know that social distancing measures work for COVID-19. And without a vaccine or without treatment, social distancing really is our only way to prevent additional cases and deaths in Utah."
Of Utah's 346 total confirmed cases, 332 are residents and 14 are nonresident visitors.
Salt Lake County still has the most COVID-19 cases among the health districts. The district now reports 151 residents and three visitors have tested positive for the coronavirus. Summit County is second with 89 resident cases and eight nonresidents. Central Utah, San Juan, Southeast Utah and TriCounty have yet to report a confirmed case.
The vast majority of cases are from people between 25 and 65, Dunn noted. In addition to reporting that about 10% of Utahns infected have needed hospitalization, she said the state is working to make public how many patients have needed ventilators or time in an intensive care unit.
Health officials also say they expect more positive tests as they ramp up testing availability this week. Over 6,800 people have been tested in Utah so far. The state now has the ability to test more than 2,000 people per day.
Meanwhile, the Utah Department of Health is seeking personal protective equipment donations, such as masks. Dunn said they are not accepting handmade items right now.
“We really need surgical-grade gowns, gloves, face shields, N95 masks and surgical masks,” she said. “We’re also asking all health professionals and allied health professionals to stop nonessential use of personal protective equipment so we do have a supply for health care workers in the event we get a surge of patients for COVID-19 here in Utah.”
People and businesses can go to the state’s website for more information on how to donate equipment.