SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s number of COVID-19 cases has increased by 564 from Monday with four new reported deaths, but the state's top disease expert says the state is showing signs of another plateau in cases.
The new numbers indicate a 2.2% increase in positive cases since Monday, according to the Utah Department of Health. Of the 382,849 tests conducted in Utah so far, 6.8% were positive for COVID-19. There were 7,007 tests conducted between Monday and Tuesday.
Utah Department of Health state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn said Tuesday the signs of a plateau are good, but people must continue taking precautions so the promising direction continues.
“We are very pleased with the plateau we’re seeing right now,” Dunn said during an interview on KSL NewsRadio’s “Dave & Dujanovic.”
The plateau is a higher one than previously seen in Utah, Dunn said, with daily new cases averaging 500 to 550 over the past two weeks.
The health department now estimates there are 11,075 active cases of COVID-19 in Utah. Another 14,764 cases are estimated to be recoveries, because those people were diagnosed with the disease three or more weeks ago and have not passed away.
Last month, Dunn warned in a memo that if Utah didn’t see new case averages around 200 by July 1, leaders might have to consider moving back to the orange, moderate-risk level for COVID-19 in order to avoid overwhelming hospitals.
The state saw 49 new hospitalizations Tuesday; a large number comparatively. The health department reports there are 197 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19 in Utah.
About 61% of intensive care unit, or ICU, beds are filled at Utah hospitals as of Tuesday, according to the health department. That number has hovered around 60-61% for the past few days. About 46% of non-ICU hospital beds are occupied in Utah, the health department reports.
Is Utah plateauing again?
Tuesday, Dunn stopped short of saying a move back to orange is necessary but said health officials, government leaders and the public need to continue the work they’re doing in order to see cases go down.
“It is a good sign to see that plateau, and we need to start seeing that decrease,” she said. “We know how to do it. We do it by wearing face coverings when we’re out in public, staying home when we’re sick, and practicing physical distancing where possible.”
The work to be done includes state leaders and health officials continuing to set a good example for the people of Utah, Dunn said. She commended Gov. Gary Herbert for his strong messaging recently regarding the use of masks, and his commitment to wearing one himself while he is in public.
“Our plan, from a public health perspective, is to continue our strong work with contact tracing, testing everybody who needs a test, and making sure that people have the information at their fingertips to make the best decisions for themselves and their loved ones,” Dunn said.
Herbert has declined to mandate masks on a statewide level and has instead preferred to let local health officials determine what is best for their jurisdictions. So far, Summit, Salt Lake and Grand counties, as well as Springdale in Washington County, have mandated wearing masks in public.
Wearing masks, like physically distancing, is extremely important if Utahns want to see this plateau turn into a decrease, Dunn said. The use of masks is one of the few proven ways of saving lives during the pandemic, she added.
“We all are part of the solution,” Dunn said. “We, as individuals, can save lives by wearing face coverings when we’re out in public ... We should take pride in that.”
As a resident of Salt Lake County, Dunn said she has seen a vast majority of people adhering to the county’s mask mandate. That shows that Utahns are willing to take responsibility for their role in driving cases down, she said.
4 more COVID-19 deaths
Tuesday’s totals give Utah 26,033 total confirmed cases, with 1,653 total hospitalizations and 194 total deaths from the disease. Previously, there were 25,469 cases in the state.
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 four deaths reported Tuesday include three men from Salt Lake County and a woman from Utah County, according to the health department.
One of the Salt Lake County men was between the ages of 25 and 44 and was hospitalized when he died. The second was between the ages of 45 and 64 and was a resident of a long-term care facility. The third was between the ages of 65 and 84 and was not hospitalized when he died.
The Utah County woman was between the ages of 25 and 44 and was hospitalized when she died, the health department reported.
Schools preparing for fall restart
The health department has also been working with the Utah State Board of Education to formulate plans to get students, teachers and staff back to school for the upcoming fall semester, Dunn said.
Schools are being encouraged to avoid large assemblies and allow for proper physical distancing, she said. Additionally, in some cases groups of students will be kept together so that the kids they sit in classrooms with are the same kids they go to lunch and recess with.
“Ensuring the safety of kids, staff, teachers is definitely a priority moving forward,” Dunn said. “The schools are doing everything right.”
Last week, 500,000 masks were delivered from China to Utah through a public-private partnership. The masks will be given to students, teachers and staff at Utah schools.
Dunn said parents and caregivers need to be mindful of COVID-19 precautions as school starts back up.
This is not the time to send your child to school if they come down with a minor cough or runny nose, Dunn said. Guardians should stay home with their children if that is the case.
Health officials are hoping to avoid a large amount of COVID-19 cases on top of the typical flu season later this fall, Dunn said. It’s important for anyone who is able to get a flu vaccine to do so. And if a COVID-19 vaccine is available in the fall, anyone who has the opportunity to get one should get it, she said.
“We want to make sure that our cases go from this plateau to a decline so that we can safely reopen our economy more and more,” Dunn said.
There is no COVID-19 news conference expected Tuesday. Utah leaders provide updates once a week on Wednesdays or Thursdays.
Contributing: Debbie Dujanovic and Dave Noriega, KSL NewsRadio