'I don't know what to do anymore': Utah officials share dire words as state sees record 1,543 new COVID-19 cases

Utah state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn speaks during the governor's monthly new conference with PBS Utah at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020.

(Laura Seitz, KSL)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's number of COVID-19 cases has increased by 1,543 on Thursday — another new single-day record for new cases.

Six deaths also were reported Thursday, according to the Utah Department of Health.

Health officials had dire words Thursday as Utah continues to experience a COVID-19 surge that Gov. Gary Herbert called one of the worst in the country earlier this month.

"I don't know what to do anymore," health department state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn said at a Thursday news conference. "I'm really not trying to scare anyone, I'm just trying to inform you."

The rolling seven-day average number of positive cases per day is now at 1,288, according to the health department. The positive test rate per day for that time period is now 15.5%.

Intermountain Healthcare infectious disease medical director Dr. Eddie Stenehjem also made his apprehension known Thursday.

Infections are at an all-time high in Utah just as the state moves into winter, where people will be gathering more in indoor places that have poor ventilation, he said. On top of that, flu season is approaching, which typically stresses healthcare systems even in a normal year, he added. All these things will drive more infections, Stenehjem said.

"For the first time as a physician, I'm scared to see what's to come," he said at the news conference. "It's hard to look forward to the future. Our morale is low. It's hard to be optimistic, but we have to."

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert provided a COVID-19 update Thursday morning at PBS Utah's monthly news conference with the governor. Utah Department of Health state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn and interim executive director Rich Saunders, as well as Intermountain Healthcare infectious disease medical director Dr. Eddie Stenehjem also spoke at the event.

Watch a replay of the event below.

New COVID-19 cases and county transmission levels

The state now estimates there are 25,400 active cases of COVID-19 in Utah. The new numbers indicate a 1.6% increase in positive cases since Wednesday. Of the 1,004,286 people tested for COVID-19 in Utah so far, 9.9% have tested positive for COVID-19.

The health department reported an increase of 10,291 tests conducted as of Thursday.

There are now 301 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Utah, including 110 in intensive care units across the state. About 74% of all ICU beds in Utah are occupied as of Thursday, while about 53% of non-ICU beds are filled, state data shows.

The six deaths reported Thursday were:

  • A Davis County woman who was between the ages of 65 and 84 who was hospitalized when she died
  • A Garfield County man who was over the age of 85 who was not hospitalized when he died
  • A Juab County woman who was between the ages of 65 and 84 and was hospitalized when she died
  • A Salt Lake County woman who was between the ages of 45 and 64 and was a resident of a long-term care facility
  • A Salt Lake County man who was between the ages of 45 and 64 and was hospitalized when he died
  • A Utah County man who was between the ages of 65 and 84 and was hospitalized when he died

Additionally Thursday, 15 new Utah counties have moved to the "high" COVID-19 transmission level rating under the health department's new transmission index system.

A total of 21 counties are now considered at a high transmission risk: Beaver, Box Elder, Cache, Carbon, Davis, Emery, Garfield, Grand, Juab, Millard, Morgan, Salt Lake, San Juan, Sanpete, Sevier, Summit, Tooele, Utah, Wasatch, Washington and Weber.

Masks are required for public gatherings, including live events, movie theaters, sporting events, weddings, recreation and entertainment in all counties, regardless of their transmission level.

For high-level counties, masks are also required in public indoor settings and outdoor settings where social distancing isn't possible. Until Oct. 29, as part of the "circuit breaker" introduced when the state debuted the new system, masks are also required in those settings for moderate-level counties. After that date, they will be considered "strongly recommended" for those settings. Masks are also considered strongly recommended for low-level counties.

Three counties are now listed at the moderate transmission level: Duchesne, Iron and Uintah. The remaining five counties are rated at the low transmission level: Daggett, Kane, Piute, Rich and Wayne.

More information about the transmission index system is available via the state's coronavirus dashboard at coronavirus.utah.gov/utah-health-guidance-levels. The state also prepared a FAQ document explaining the system, which is available by clicking this link.

Thursday's totals give Utah 99,549 total confirmed cases, with 4,880 total hospitalizations and 563 total deaths from the disease. A total of 73,586 Utah COVID-19 cases are now considered recovered, according to state data.

State officials continue begging Utahns to follow rules

Herbert, Dunn, Stenehjem and health department interim executive director Rich Saunders continued pleading with Utahns to keep wearing masks, socially distancing and following public health recommendations, as the state has done for the entirety of the pandemic.

"We need your help," Saunders said.

The Utah Department of Transportation plans to announce individual count transmission levels on their highway signs, which are placed throughout the state and display various messages, Saunders said. Additionally, the health department will be pushing the messaging on social media and elsewhere, so that people in each individual county know what they should be doing, he added.

But he also encouraged people to spread the word themselves. Utahns should encourage their friends, family and others around them to be more cautious, Saunders said.

Some have said that the state set criteria for the new transmission index system was too stringent and aren't achievable, Saunders said. However, state officials know counties can get back to lower levels because Utah has spent much of the pandemic at a lower transmission risk level, he added.

The state has shifted to a model emphasizing individual responsibility to stop the spread of COVID-19, Dunn said.

When asked if there is any policy solution that could make people who are still breaking the rules follow the state's recommendations, Herbert said he didn't think so. Short of locking people up and forcing them to isolate themselves, there's not much more the state can do, the governor said. They simply need people to accept responsibility and do their part to stop COVID-19 spread, he added.

"There's a lot of bad behavior out there," Herbert said. "If all of us do our part, I'm confident we will survive this."

Gov. Gary Herbert speaks during his monthly new conference with PBS Utah at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020.
Gov. Gary Herbert speaks during his monthly new conference with PBS Utah at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020. (Photo: Laura Seitz, KSL)

If something doesn't change now, hospitals that are already stretched for resources could be unable to provide quality care that people need, Stenehjem said. Beds and medicines are important, but the most critical piece of Utah's healthcare system is its caregivers, but they are becoming fatigued and frustrated, he said.

Though it's tough right now to be optimistic about the future, Utahns need to force themselves behind a common motivation, Stenehjem added.

"We need to develop a unity of purpose in this state. We need to come together as one. We need to rally behind this singular goal of protecting the health of our citizens," Stenehjem said. "Now is the time."


Test results now include data from PCR tests and antigen tests. Positive COVID-19 test results are reported to the health department immediately after they are confirmed, but negative test results may not be reported for 24 to 72 hours.

The total number of cases reported by the Utah Department of Health each day includes all cases of COVID-19 since Utah's outbreak began, including those who are currently infected, those who have recovered from the disease, and those who have died.

Recovered cases are defined as anyone who was diagnosed with COVID-19 three or more weeks ago and has not died.

Deaths reported by the state typically occurred two to seven days prior to when they are reported, according to the health department. Some deaths may be from even further back, especially if the person is from Utah but has died in another state.

The health department reports both confirmed and probable COVID-19 case deaths per the case definition outlined by the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists. The death counts are subject to change as case investigations are completed.

Data included in this story primarily reflects the state of Utah as a whole. For more localized data, visit your local health district's website.

More information about Utah's health guidance levels is available at coronavirus.utah.gov/utah-health-guidance-levels.

Information is from the Utah Department of Health and coronavirus.utah.gov/case-counts. For more information on how the Utah Department of Health compiles and reports COVID-19 data, visit coronavirus.utah.gov/case-counts and scroll down to the "Data Notes" section at the bottom of the page.


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