SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Gov. Gary Herbert doesn't anticipate issuing more COVID-19 mandates enacting rules for how people should gather for Thanksgiving next week.
Instead, the state is issuing some guidelines and recommendations for how people should get together during the pandemic, if they plan to do so, the governor said Thursday.
Also Thursday, Utah's number of COVID-19 cases increased by 3,968, according to the Utah Department of Health. Eighteen more deaths were also reported, breaking the state's previous single-day deaths record, set at 17 on Nov. 6.
The rolling seven-day average number of positive cases per day is now at 3,163, according to the health department. The positive test rate per day for that time period is now 23.7%.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert provided a COVID-19 update at his monthly news conference on PBS Utah. Watch the replay of the event below.
Guidelines for holiday gatherings
People need to know and understand the risks before they plan holiday gatherings, Herbert said.
"We want everybody to have a good holiday season," he said. "Just do it as much as you can in a safe way."
Herbert spoke and took questions from the public Thursday morning during a special edition of "Let Me Speak to the Governor" on KSL NewsRadio.
The state's current COVID-19 emergency health order expires on Monday. State officials said Wednesday they were working on an extension of that order.
However, the part of that order that outlaws social gatherings with people outside one's own household will not be extended, Herbert told KSL NewsRadio. The state will be eliminating mandates for what people should do in their own homes, he added.
The state's recommendations for holiday gatherings are now available on the Utah Department of Health coronavirus website at coronavirus.utah.gov/holidays.
State officials still recommend keeping gatherings to 10 people or fewer, Herbert said. One person should prepare and serve all the food instead of holding a potluck-style event where people bring their own dishes, he added. Anyone preparing food should wear a mask at all times while cooking.
Utah health officials also recommend planning out a seating arrangement beforehand that includes social distancing, so Thanksgiving guests will know where to sit and won't move their chairs around, Herbert said.
Inviting people from out of town or from other households makes your gathering riskier, he added. Not wearing masks during the gathering increases the risk that COVID-19 will spread between guests.
Additionally, people should host their gatherings outside if possible. If you're inside, make sure the ventilation is good in the area by opening windows or turning on some fans. Gatherings should also be shorter instead of all-day affairs, he said.
"It's all about minimizing risk," Herbert said.
Though some aspects of the emergency order expire Monday, the statewide mask mandate will continue. The mandate was intended to be extended indefinitely when Herbert issued the emergency order earlier this month.
New COVID-19 cases, deaths
The health department now estimates there are 55,233 active COVID-19 cases in Utah. The health department also reported 534 current COVID-19 hospitalizations in Utah, down slightly from Wednesday.
Of those hospital patients, 195 are in intensive care unit beds. Herbert said about 45 ICU beds remained available in Utah as of Thursday. About 88% of all Utah ICU beds are occupied as of Thursday, including about 92% of beds in referral hospitals, which receive patients from other Utah jurisdictions that don't have space to provide care.
About 56% of non-ICU hospital beds are filled as of Thursday, Utah state data shows.
The new numbers indicate a 2.4% increase in positive cases since Wednesday. Of the 1,296,656 people tested for COVID-19 in Utah so far, 12.8% have tested positive for COVID-19. The state reported an increase of 17,705 tests conducted as of Thursday.
The deaths reported Thursday include:
- A Davis County man who was between the ages of 65 and 84 and was a resident of a long-term care facility
- A Salt Lake County man who was between the ages of 65 and 84 and was a resident of a long-term care facility
- A Salt Lake County woman who was between the ages of 65 and 84 and was a resident of a long-term care facility
- A Salt Lake County man who was between the ages of 65 and 84 and was hospitalized when he died
- A Salt Lake County woman who was over the age of 85 and was hospitalized when she died
- A Salt Lake County man who was between the ages of 45 and 64 and was hospitalized when he died
- A Summit County woman who was over the age of 85 and was a resident of a long-term care facility
- A Utah County woman who was between the ages of 65 and 84 and was a resident of a long-term care facility
- A Utah County woman who was over the age of 85 and was a resident of a long-term care facility
- A Utah County man who was over the age of 85 and was a resident of a long-term care facility
- A Utah County woman who was between the ages of 65 and 84 and was hospitalized when she died
- A Utah County man who was over the age of 85 and was hospitalized when he died
- A Wasatch County woman who was over the age of 85 and was hospitalized when she died
- A Washington County woman who was over the age of 85 and was hospitalized when she died
- A Washington County man who was over the age of 85 and was hospitalized when he died
- A Washington County man who was between the ages of 65 and 84 and was hospitalized when he died
- A Washington County woman who was between the ages of 65 and 84 and was not hospitalized when she died
- A Weber County woman who was over the age of 85 and was a resident of a long-term care facility
Two deaths of Salt Lake County women that were previously reported as COVID-19 deaths were taken out of the deaths count for further investigation, the health department said. Both were between the ages of 65 and 84; one was not hospitalized when she died, and the other was a resident of a long-term care facility.
Thursday's totals give Utah 165,996 total confirmed cases, with 7,215 total hospitalizations and 756 total deaths from the disease. A total of 110,007 Utah COVID-19 cases are now considered recovered, according to the health department.
State still working to ramp up COVID-19 testing
Also Thursday, Herbert discussed Utah's plans to ramp up testing. Currently, the state typically conducts 10,000 to 15,000 tests a day, or about 70,000 to 105,000 per week, he said.
The goal is to get that to 250,000 tests per week, the governor added, though he didn't announce a timeline for getting to that point. This will include regular testing of various people the state has determined should be tested regularly, such as college students, Herbert said.
"We want to have a lot more testing," he added.
During PBS Utah's news confernce Thursday morning, Herbert acknowledged that it's taken a long time to start increasing testing. State officials began talking about expanding Utah's testing capacity at the end of the summer, and though there has been a slight increase in daily testing numbers since then, testing has largely stagnated over the past several months.
"It has taken a long time to ramp up tests," Herbert said.
Part of the reason for the lack of testing may have been that testing supplies have been difficult to come by, Herbert said. But now, the U.S. Centers For Disease Control and Prevention has promised to replenish Utah's supply of tests when the state runs out. PCR testing is working well; and Abbott tests, which can deliver results in as little as 20 minutes, are becoming more readily available, Herbert added.
Earlier in the summer, it was believed that COVID-19 wouldn't spread unless people were showing symptoms, so asymptomatic people didn't get tested for the disease. Now that health officials know that's not true, and the disease can spread among people who don't have any symptoms, there will be more of an effort to test asymptomatic Utahns, the governor said.
It's challenging to test a lot of asymptomatic people, especially as cases are rising, Herbert said. But the end result of lower testing numbers is hospitals becoming overwhelmed, so the need to get all people tested — whether or not they have symptoms — is more important now than ever before, he added.
"Testing's going to help us," the governor said.
Herbert asked people to remain thankful for what they have, in spite of the pandemic. The governor maintained the optimism he's displayed throughout the first eight months of the pandemic and looked toward the future where Utah will get through the situation.
"We can see daylight at the end of the tunnel," Herbert said. "Hallelujah, 2021 is coming."
Contributing: Amanda Dickson and Tim Hughes, KSL NewsRadio
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.
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.