SALT LAKE CITY — Utah saw the largest number of new COVID-19 cases in one day Thursday since the pandemic began, but health officials say the state is still plateauing and there is reason to be optimistic.
Thursday's totals give Utah 8,921 total confirmed cases, with 734 total hospitalizations and 106 total deaths from the disease. Previously, there were 8,706 cases in the state.
The new numbers indicate a 2.5% increase in positive cases since Wednesday. Of the 203,507 tests conducted in Utah so far, 4.4% were positive for COVID-19.
The previous high for new cases reported in one day was 203 on May 23.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, Utah Division of Indian Affairs Executive Director Dustin Jansen Utah Department of Health state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn and Utah Division of Veterans and Military Affairs Executive Director Gary Harter spoke at the weekly Utah Department of Health press conference Thursday morning.
Watch the replay of the event below.
Coronavirus outbreak at Salt Lake City veterans' home
The William E. Christoffersen Salt Lake Veterans Home, located at 700 Foothill Boulevard, experienced a COVID-19 outbreak this month.
As of Tuesday, 41 residents and 17 healthcare workers had tested positive for the disease, according to Gary Harter, executive director of the Utah Division of Veterans and Military Affairs.
There were 72 residents at the facility on May 18 when facility staff were first notified that there was a positive case of the disease, Harter said. No one has become critically ill, he added.
"We are all doing everything we can to protect residents and staff," Harter said.
A total of 22 residents were moved from the home to the VA medical center.
The division is working with Avalon Health Care Group, which manages the facility, to understand how the disease got into the home. The residents have been quarantined since mid-March, and the facility has not accepted any visitors since that time, Harter added.
There are no other known COVID-19 outbreaks at VA or Avalon facilities, Harter said.
2 more COVID-19 deaths
The two people who died were both men from Utah County who were hospitalized when they died, the health department reported. One was between the ages of 60 and 85, and the other was between the ages of 18 and 60.
The total deaths count appears on the state's coronavirus dashboard as if it only increased by one, but there were two new deaths reported Thursday.
One death from Wednesday was removed from the total count because it is being investigated further. That person was diagnosed with COVID-19 more than two weeks ago, so medical examiners are investigating whether the disease was a contributing factor in the person's death, health department state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn said Thursday.
The total number of cases reported by the health department includes all cases of COVID-19 since Utah’s outbreak began, including those who are infected now, those who have recovered from the disease, and those who have died.
The health department now estimates that there are 3,192 active cases of COVID-19 in Utah. Another 5,623 people are estimated to have recovered from the disease. Anyone who was diagnosed three or more weeks ago and has not died is considered to be recovered from COVID-19.
As of Thursday, there are 97 people currently hospitalized with the disease in Utah, the health department reports. There were 2,881 tests conducted since Wednesday, and the positive test rate remains at 4.4%.
State still working to help Navajo Nation, hit hard by COVID-19
State officials are still working hard to help members of minority groups who have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic — especially Hispanics, Navajos and Pacific islanders.
As of Tuesday, there had been 251 positive COVID-19 cases and four deaths from the disease on the Utah portion of the Navajo Nation, which is in southern San Juan County, according to Utah Division of Indian Affairs Executive Director Dustin Jensen.
He commended Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez, as well as other tribal leaders across the state, for their work to protect tribal members.
“This pandemic has hit all of the tribal lands hard and very seriously," Jensen said.
Overall, the Navajo Nation, which is in parts of Utah, Arizona and New Mexico, has experienced 159 deaths and just under 5,000 positive cases, according to a news release.
If it were a U.S. state, the nation of fewer than 200,000 would have the highest death rate in the country, Gov. Gary Herbert said.
The state of Utah remains in constant communication with tribal leaders in the Navajo Nation and elsewhere, as well as federal leaders, to assist tribal governments with the pandemic, Jensen added.
One of the last places for COVID-19 to arrive in the U.S. was the Navajo Nation, Jensen said. By the time the nation's needs for medical supplies and testing kits became apparent, they were already behind, he said.
Undeveloped road, water and internet infrastructure also makes controlling the spread of the virus difficult in the nation's rural location, he said.
Farmers Feeding Utah program delivering help to Navajo Nation, northern Utah
One part of the state's response has been delivering food through the Farmers Feeding Utah program.
About 300 live sheep have been delivered to people in need in the Navajo Nation, and more will be delivered soon, according to Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox. About 16,000 pounds of lamb meat also was delivered to the nation.
"This is just the start," Cox said.
A new initiative from the Farmers Feeding Utah program will benefit people in Box Elder, Cache and Rich counties, which have seen demand spike significantly at food pantries in their area.
Cox encouraged people to donate to or volunteer with Farmers Feeding Utah or another charitable program as the pandemic continues. For more information, visit farmersfeedingutah.org.
Officials remain optimistic about Utah's situation
Though the number of new COVID-19 cases continues to rise daily in the triple digits recently, state epidemiologist Dunn said the average increased case rate of 1.8% over the past week indicates the state is still plateauing in its pandemic.
Utah's COVID-19 transmission rate, which measures the likelihood that someone infected with the disease will transmit it to someone else, has been between 1.1 and 1.2 for the past several weeks, as well, Dunn added. Officials want to see that drop below 1.0, which will mean they are gaining control over the spread of the disease and driving it down.
Health officials also are working to stop the spread among Hispanics and Latinos, who now account for more confirmed COVID-19 cases than any other Utah ethnic group, despite making up only about 14% of the state's overall population.
More community health workers from Hispanic and Latino communities are being hired to help with case investigations, Dunn said. The health department is also increasing its number of Spanish-speaking workers.
The department is also working with leaders in Hispanic and Latino communities to find out why the disease is spreading there, Dunn added. Many members of such communities aren't able to telework or socially distance, which may be contributing to the spread, she said.
Herbert added that the state will continue to look at data and let that drive its decision-making. State leaders don't want to open the economy too quickly or too slowly — they want to find an appropriate balance, he said.
“I think there’s a lot of reason to be hopeful and optimistic," Herbert said.