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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday he isn't surprised to see an uptick in COVID-19 cases following the Thanksgiving holiday.
The Utah Department of Health reported 3,945 new cases Thursday and 11 more deaths.
Following a short plateau immediately before the holiday, where Utah saw several days with under 2,000 new cases, the last two days have each brought around 4,000 new cases to Utah.
"We're going to see that number (of cases) increase, I hope not too dramatically," Herbert said at the Thursday news conference.
The governor urged people to continue being cautious and limit social gatherings to stop the spread of the virus. A two-week health order issued by Herbert before Thanksgiving limited home gatherings to only those people living within the same household. That worked, and people became more cognizant of how social gatherings can spread the virus, Herbert said.
When the order expired on Nov. 23 most aspects of the order were continued, but state officials lifted the regulations on home gatherings, outlining recommendations for those gatherings instead of government mandates. Thursday, Herbert said public health officials know that cases go down when social gatherings are limited and go up when they're not limited.
However, he did not indicate he has any plan to reinstate such limitations before Christmas, saying that they would not be enforceable and would be a governmental overreach.
"That's a bridge too far for me to say 'we're going to watch what you do inside your home,'" Herbert said.
The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention have said the next 45-60 days could be the worst of the pandemic so far, according to Herbert. With colder weather and another major holiday coming up, more people will likely be gathering indoors.
Despite the recent uptick, Herbert remained optimistic that the end of the pandemic is near.
"We'll get through this together," he said. "2021's going to be a good year."
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert spoke at a news conference Thursday morning. Utah Department of Health state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn also spoke at the event. Watch the replay below.
New COVID-19 cases
The state now estimates there are 62,309 active cases of COVID-19 in Utah. The rolling seven-day average number of positive COVID-19 cases per day is now at 2,627, according to the health department. The positive test rate per day for that time period is now 24.2%.
Health department state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn noted that the state's rolling seven-day average positive test rate had dipped to about 21% earlier this week, but has now risen back up to 24.2%. That indicates that another rise in cases is likely imminent, she said.
Thursday's COVID-19 totals give Utah 206,165 total confirmed cases, with 8,548 total hospitalizations and 917 total deaths from the disease since the pandemic began.
The new numbers indicate a 2% increase in positive cases since Wednesday. Of the 1,454,844 people tested for COVID-19 in Utah so far, 14.2% have tested positive for the disease.
There are 597 COVID-19 patients currently hospitalized in Utah, state data shows. Of those, 209 are in intensive care units, according to state data. About 86% of all Utah ICU beds are occupied as of Thursday, including nearly 89% of ICU beds in Utah's referral hospitals, which are the 16 health care facilities that are able to provide the best COVID-19 care.
About 57% of non-ICU hospital beds are occupied in Utah Thursday, state data shows.
"The hospitals can only accommodate so many of us," Herbert said.
The 11 deaths reported Thursday were:
- A Carbon County man who was between the ages of 65 and 84 and was hospitalized when he died
- A Salt Lake County man who was over the age of 85 and was hospitalized when he died
- Two Salt Lake County men who were between the ages of 65 and 84 and were not hospitalized when they died
- Two Salt Lake County men who were between the ages of 65 and 84 and were hospitalized when they died
- A Utah County man who was between the ages of 65 and 84 and was not hospitalized when he died
- A Utah County man who was between the ages of 45 and 64 and was a resident of a long-term care facility
- A Weber County man who was over the age of 85 and was a resident of a long-term care facility
- 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 between the ages of 45 and 64 and was a resident of a long-term care facility
A total of 142,939 Utah COVID-19 cases are now considered recovered, state data shows.
Utah's health guidance levels for individual counties in the state have stayed the same from last week. Daggett, Piute and Rich counties are considered at a low level of COVID-19 transmission, while all other counties in Utah are at the high transmission level.
The transmission index system was suspended during the two-week "hard reset" health order from Nov. 9-23 but resumed last week.
New quarantine guidelines
Thursday, Dunn announced that Utah has modified quarantine guidelines for those exposed to COVID-19, in accordance with the CDC.
People will now be able to quarantine for 10 days instead of 14. Additionally, if they are tested on the seventh day and return a negative result, and don't have any symptoms of COVID-19, they may end their quarantine, Dunn said.
Dunn said even though vaccines are expected to begin being distributed later this month, people will need to continue wearing masks, socially distancing and limiting gatherings to those in one's own household even after the vaccine begins being administered.
"We really need to hold steady over the next several months," she said.
Health care workers are expected to begin receiving the vaccine later this month in Utah. The CDC has indicated the vaccine could become widely available by April, Dunn said, though local Utah health officials have said June or July is a more likely timeline for the state.
Herbert said he anticipates that everyone in Utah who wants a vaccine will be able to get one.
"There is help and hope on the way," Herbert said. "Take on the responsibility, do your best, adapt, innovate and overcome, and we'll do it together."
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.
For deaths that are reported as COVID-19 deaths, the person would not have died if they did not have COVID-19, according to the health department.
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.