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Steve Griffin, KSL file

Utah sees 439 new COVID-19 cases – highest since pandemic start – many linked to one outbreak

By Jacob Klopfenstein, KSL.com | Updated - Jun. 5, 2020 at 3:59 p.m. | Posted - Jun. 5, 2020 at 1:03 p.m.



SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's number of new COVID-19 cases increased by 439 Friday — eclipsing the state's previous highest single-day new case total by nearly 100.

However, Utah Department of Health officials said at least one-third of all the new cases Friday were from the Bear River Health District. Many of the new cases in that district are linked to a known outbreak at a meat processing facility, according to health department state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn.

"Many of the workers at this facility match the demographics of who we know are at the highest risk for infection," Dunn said in a news release Friday. "I expect to see additional cases of COVID-19 identified as part of this outbreak, both at the worksite and in the community."

The meat processing facility has not been identified.

Dunn added that it is important for employers to keep workplaces healthy and safe for their employees as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

"It's more important than ever that employers provide safe working environments for their employees, and have policies in place that not only allow, but encourage, employees to stay away from the workplace when they are sick," she said in the release.

Bear River outbreak

Almost 200 of the new cases reported on Friday came from the Bear River Health District and are tied to an outbreak at a local meat processing facility.

The spike in positive cases also comes from mass testing events where 1,300 tests were completed.

The health district completed the 1,300 tests over the last week, with many of the results coming in late Thursday evening due to delays from testing labs, health officials said.

The Bear River Health Department doesn’t have the capability to run tests but said their investigative teams have worked tirelessly to conduct contact tracing.

Additional investigators from the Utah National Guard, local health departments throughout the state, and a CDC team are helping the department in contact tracing efforts.

“As the health department continues to investigate this outbreak, we ask the residents of our community to remain diligent. We plead with you to maintain physical distancing when possible, wear a face covering when physical distancing is difficult, stay home when you are sick, and wash your hands often,” Lloyd Berentzen, the department’s health director, said in a written statement. “We appreciate all our communities have done and the sacrifices they have made.”

Daily updates from the health department are provided on its website, brhd.org.

New COVID-19 cases and deaths

Three new deaths were also reported Friday, according to the health department. The totals give Utah 11,252 total confirmed cases, with 870 total hospitalizations and 120 total deaths from the disease.

The health department estimates that there are currently 4,344 active cases of COVID-19 in Utah.

The three people who died were all from Salt Lake County, health officials report. Two were men between the ages of 60 and 85 who were hospitalized when they died. The third was a woman who was older than 85 and was a resident of a long-term care facility, according to the health department.

Previously, there were 10,813 total cases in the state.

The new numbers indicate a 4.1% increase in positive cases since Thursday. Of the 232,197 tests conducted in Utah so far, 4.8% were positive for COVID-19. There were 4,690 tests conducted from Thursday to Friday, the health department reported.

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 that 6,788 Utahns have recovered from COVID-19. Anyone who was diagnosed with the disease three or more weeks ago who has not died is considered recovered.

Twenty more people were hospitalized with the disease Friday, and there are currently 114 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Utah.

There was not a COVID-19 news conference scheduled for Friday. Utah officials provide updates at news conferences once a week on Wednesdays.

Utah staying in yellow COVID-19 risk zone amid statewide spike

Earlier Friday, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert announced most areas in the state would be staying at the yellow, low-risk level for COVID-19.

The state’s previous health order setting the state at the yellow level was set to expire Friday. The current health order will remain in effect until Friday, June 12.

Salt Lake City, Bluff and Mexican Hat remain at moderate, or orange risk level.

Business leaders had hoped to see the state transition to the green, new normal risk level by this month. And the Public Health and Economic Emergency Commission, which is advising Herbert during the pandemic, recommended the state transition to green earlier this week.

But the health department didn't recommend a shift, Dunn said Wednesday. The data didn't support loosening restrictions further, she added in a news conference.

Epidemiologist urges Utahns to continue following health guidelines

State health officials have been investigating a statewide spike in new cases of the disease over the past week, Dunn said earlier this week. The spike can't be attributed to a few hotspots or outbreaks, but is an overall statewide trend, she said.

For that reason, it's extremely important that Utahns continue to follow the state's social distancing guidelines, even as more restaurants, gyms and other businesses continue reopening, Dunn said.

People gathering in Utah for protests seeking justice for George Floyd, the black man who died while in police custody in Minneapolis last week, also must exercise caution, Dunn said in a tweet Friday. First and foremost, if someone is feeling ill, they should stay home and not go to protests or any other gatherings, she said.

Protesters should wear a face covering and eye protection and stay hydrated, Dunn said. They should also consider using signs and noisemakers instead of yelling. Sticking to small groups, keeping six feet away from others, and using hand sanitizer are also recommended.

"For the rest of us, now is not the time to let your guard down," Dunn said in Friday's news release. "Social distancing is more important than ever, yet people seem to be taking it less seriously than ever. If you're sick, stay home. If you're moving about in public, wear a mask. It is up to all of us as individuals to stop the spread of COVID-19 in Utah."

Contributing: Lauren Bennett, KSL.com

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