SALT LAKE CITY — The state of Utah is seeing a spike in COVID-19 cases that can't be explained by a single hotspot — it's a statewide issue, according to health officials.
The last week has seen numbers of new cases in the triple digits every day, and the state's total number of cases has now jumped past 10,000.
"I want to be very clear today that we have increased spread of COVID-19 here in Utah,” health department state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn said in a news conference Wednesday. "It is significantly a statewide trend."
Most cases in the state are still being transmitted between household members, Dunn said. However, the rate of cases attributed to community spread has risen slightly in the past several weeks as stay-at-home recommendations have been loosened, she added.
To combat the trend, people must make sure they are still following the state's health recommendations, Dunn said.
People must avoid close contact with others while in public and should wear a mask when social distancing is not possible. People are asked to stay home if they have any signs of illness, no matter how mild. Additionally, if health officials have asked you to stay home, you should follow their guidelines.
Dunn pointed out that following the state's recommendations is still very important, even though restrictions are being loosened for the public and businesses.
“Loosening restrictions does not mean that the risk of spread is decreasing," she said.
Utah Department of Health state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn discussed the current coronavirus situation in the state at the weekly health department press conference Wednesday afternoon. Watch the replay of the event below.
New COVID-19 cases
Today's totals give Utah 10,497 confirmed cases, with 829 total hospitalizations and 117 total deaths from the disease. Previously, there were 10,202 cases in the state.
The health department estimates there are currently 3,879 active cases of COVID-19 in Utah.
The new numbers indicate a 2.9% increase in positive cases since Tuesday. Of the 223,981 tests conducted in Utah so far, 4.7% were positive for COVID-19. There were 2,190 tests conducted since Tuesday, the health department reported.
The four people who died were all men from Salt Lake County, the health department reports. Two were older than 85 and were residents of long-term care facilities. Another was between the ages of 60 and 85 and was also a long-term care facility resident. The fourth was between the ages of 18 and 60 and was hospitalized when he died, according to the health department.
A total of 28 more people were hospitalized from Tuesday to Wednesday, and 108 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 in Utah, the health department said.
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 estimates there are now 6,501 recoveries in Utah. Anyone who was diagnosed with COVID-19 three or more weeks ago and has not died is considered to be recovered.
Going to green? State agencies have differing opinions
State officials expected to see a rise in cases when social distancing measures started being loosened, Dunn said. However, that's not the only reason for the recent spike, she added.
“It’s not this simple act of loosening restrictions that causes cases to increase, it’s what we do in society and with our actions that can cause COVID-19 to spread more readily," Dunn said.
Following the state's guidelines for limiting the spread of the disease is even more important now as more aspects of the economy and society begin to reopen.
The department will be watching the cases in the next week or two to see if the uptick in spread continues, Dunn said. During that time, health officials need people to self-isolate immediately if they notice any disease symptoms.
Though the Public Health and Economic Emergency Commission has recommended Utah move to the green, "new normal" level, the Utah Department of Health is not recommending a change, Dunn said.
Data does not support moving the state to a less restrictive state, she said. Both the health department's recommendation and the Public Health and Economic Emergency Commission's recommendations will go to Gov. Gary Herbert, who will make the final decision.
Wednesday, Dunn said she did not know which way Herbert was leaning. Many of the state's current public health orders expire Friday.
In a Tuesday statement, the Public Health and Economic Emergency Commission cited the fact that hospitals have not been overwhelmed during Utah's pandemic as a reason supporting transitioning the state to green.
As of Tuesday, hospitalization in intensive care units (ICUs) across Utah hospitals averaged 61% capacity for COVID-19 and non-coronavirus beds for the past two weeks.
Positive COVID-19 patients in ICU beds have not exceeded 11% of the total capacity for the last two weeks as well, officials said.
However, Dunn said Wednesday that hospitalizations are often a delayed statistic. Typically, people are sick with COVID-19 for 7-10 days before they are hospitalized.
A spike in hospitalizations due to the current spike in cases is expected in about a week, Dunn added. The state has maintained a hospitalization rate of about 8% for COVID-19 cases so far.
Protesting and COVID-19
Dunn said there is not an elevated risk of contracting COVID-19 at a protest, as compared to any other large gathering. As of Wednesday, there were no known cases of COVID-19 connected to recent protests seeking justice for George Floyd this week in Utah, Dunn said, but health officials will be monitoring that.
“Any situation where you have a lot of people gathered for a prolonged period of time and they’re really close together, that of course is a situation where we’re really concerned for COVID-19 spread, so we’re really going to be watching our numbers over the next week or two to determine if we do see an uptick,” she said.
People attending any large gathering, such as a protest, should observe social distancing of more than 6 feet if possible, Dunn said. Wearing masks is also highly encouraged for protesters.
People who have any illness symptoms should stay home and not attend protests or other large gatherings, Dunn added. Anyone who attends such an event should monitor their health for any symptoms for 14 days, and seek healthcare guidance if they develop any symptoms.
Clarification: In a previous version we reported that Dr. Angela Dunn said there is not an elevated risk of COVID-19 for people attending large gatherings, such as protests. That statement has been clarified to show there is not an elevated risk of contracting the virus at a protest, as compared to any other large gathering.