SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's COVID-19 situation took a drastic and very much welcomed turn shortly after the new year began.
Looking at the Utah Department of Health's seven-day running averages from early January to now: The state's average of new cases dropped from 3,258 per day on Jan. 9 to 395 cases per day as of Wednesday. That's nearly an 88% decrease in the average new cases reported.
The person over person positivity rate also dropped from a pandemic-high 33.6% on the first of the year to its current rate 7.7%.
It's hard to pinpoint exactly what has caused such a dramatic turn, especially since the state's epidemiological curve dropped suddenly amid the first few weeks of the COVID-19 vaccination process but prior to it becoming more widely available.
Today, over 1.13 million Utahns have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. That represents close to half of Utah's estimated adult population. Nearly one-third of the estimated adult population is considered fully vaccinated, as well.
Utah's 60 to 69, 70 to 79 and 80-plus age groups have already crossed 70% in terms of receiving at least one vaccine dose, per state health department data. The 70 to 79 and 80-plus groups have even exceeded 80%.
But the data also show exactly the "plateau" in new cases that public health experts have talked about for weeks. While the average number of new cases per day is eight times fewer since January, that average has remained between 385 and 425 new cases per day since about March 23 instead of a continued sharp deceleration.
The state's epidemiological curve went into a plateau in late March after it had been in decline every day beforehand beginning on Jan. 11. After an update Thursday, health department data show an "incidence plateau" began March 28 and has remained there since.
"Right now, we're about the place we were back in June, so we're not down to a good solid baseline," said Dr. Kristin Dascomb, Intermountain Healthcare medical director of infection prevention for employee health, in a media briefing last week. "We still have (Centers for the Disease Control and Prevention)-defined high or very high transmission, so we still have to be careful when we're out there. But it is looking optimistic as our case counts continue to decrease.
"We've been around 400 cases per day for a while now, so maybe we're flattening out or slowing our trend a little bit," she added. "So there's still a really good reason to keep masking and to stay safe."
With that in mind, is there any data that could tell us about the Utahns who are contracting COVID-19 that's left the state stuck at about 400 new cases per day?
The age ranges haven't changed much recently — but one group's share of cases is slowly rising
When it comes to overall COVID-19 cases, the 25 to 44 age range still holds the majority of cases. Looking back to three months from Tuesday, state health department data show about 35% of all new COVID-19 cases fell within this age range. That's compared to 35.6% from March 2020 up until Jan. 13.
That's followed by the 15 to 24-year-old age group, which accounted for nearly 24% through Jan. 13 and about 23% since.
The one age range slowly on the rise compared to before Jan. 13? The 1 to 14 age range, which rose from 9.7% on Jan. 13 to 13% for the ensuing three months. All the other age groups experienced slight declines in terms of their share of COVID-19 cases in the state.
On a more recent scale, the 25 to 44 age range leads with 36.6% of all cases over the past month. That 1 to 14 range remained at 13% over that span.
COVID-19 Case Counts
COVID-19 cases reported on Jan. 13
- 1-14: 30,778 cases (9.7%)
- 15-24: 75,619 cases (23.8%)
- 25-44: 112,976 cases (35.6%)
- 45-64: 71,339 cases (22.5%)
- 65-84: 22,980 cases (7.2%)
- 85+: 2,844 cases (0.9%)
Total (including under 1): 317,559
COVID-19 cases reported since Jan. 13 (as of Wednesday)
- 1-14: 9,605 cases (13%)
- 15-24: 16,883 cases (22.9%)
- 25-44: 25,783 cases (35%)
- 45-64: 15,492 cases (21%)
- 65-84: 5,009 cases (6.8%)
- 85+: 553 cases (0.8%)
Total (including under 1): 73,618
COVID-19 cases reported since March 13 (as of Wednesday)
- 1-14: 1,663 cases (13%)
- 15-24: 2,847 cases (22.2%)
- 25-44: 4,686 cases (36.6%)
- 45-64: 2,724 cases (21.3%)
- 65-84: 568 cases (4.4%)
- 85+: 55 cases (0.4%)
Total (including under 1): 12,798
Source: Utah Department of Health
Percentage increases of cases are another way to look at the COVID-19 case growth.
As of Wednesday, the 1- to 14-year-old age group had the largest percentage increase in cases, going from 30,778 on Jan. 13 to 40,383 total cases three months later. That's a 31% increase compared to the next highest increase of close to 23% over that span, which was the 25 to 44-year-old age group.
COVID-19 cases from Jan. 13 to April 13 (as of Wednesday)
- 1-14: 9,605 cases (31.2% increase)
- 15-24: 16,883 cases (22.2% increase)
- 25-44: 25,783 cases (22.8% increase)
- 45-64: 15,492 cases (21.7% increase)
- 65-84: 5,009 cases (21.8% increase)
- 85+: 553 cases (19.4% increase)
The rates have slowed down over the past month but the 1 to 14 range still leads with 4.8%. The good news is that, much like Utah as a whole, the growth of new cases is much lower than at the beginning of 2021.
COVID-19 cases from March 13 to April 13 (as of Wednesday)
- 1-14: 1,663 cases (4.8% increase)
- 15-24: 2,847 cases (3.4% increase)
- 25-44: 4,686 cases (3.6% increase)
- 45-64: 2,724 cases (3.3% increase)
- 65-84: 568 cases (2.1% increase)
- 85+: 55 cases (1.6% increase)
When it comes to the younger age groups, Dascomb said it's been a difficult group to reach from a public health standpoint because teens and adults especially tend to not believe they will get sick from the coronavirus.
"My suggestion would be not to just think of yourself because maybe you wouldn't get sick but maybe your friend would, or maybe their grandmother would, or your grandmother should you bring the virus home to your family," she said. "So wearing your mask when you're with friends that are not with family, getting vaccinated as soon as you are eligible and ensuring you're safe around your friends … is critically important to helping that age group reduce their case counts and transmission."
The declining new case rates among older Utahns
What's possibly more noticeable is the declining percentage of older Utahns contracting COVID-19. Utahns 65 to 84, for instance, accounted for about 7.2% of all cases to date Jan. 13; since then, the group has accounted for 6.8%. Over the past month? 4.4%.
For Utahns 85 and older, the percentage of the past month was 0.4%, as of Wednesday. That's compared to 0.9% from March 2020 to Jan. 13 and 0.8% of all cases over the past three months.
Those declines have come as the number of Utahns 65 and older getting vaccinated have skyrocketed in the past three months. On Jan. 13, no age group had more than 10% of their estimated age range population vaccinated.
The 70 to 79 and 80-plus age ranges reached 70% vaccination in late February. The 70 to 79 range was listed at 87% and 80-plus at 84% Wednesday, according to the state health department.
That's had other benefits than just dealing with new cases.
"We have fewer hospitalizations because we've vaccinated our elder populations and we're seeing fewer and fewer cases in our health care workers," Dascomb said.
This appears in the state health department hospitalization data. On Jan. 13, the 65 to 84 age group accounted for about 32% of all COVID-19 hospitalizations. That fell to 30% over the past three months overall and 19% over the past month.
On Jan. 13
- 1-14: 179 (1.5%)
- 15-24: 842 (6.9%)
- 25-44: 2,705 (22.1%)
- 45-64: 3,806 (31.1%)
- 65-84: 3,907 (31.9%)
- 85+: 760 (6.2%)
Total (including under 1): 12,249
Since Jan. 13 (as of Wednesday)
- 1-14: 86 (2.4%)
- 15-24: 309 (8.6%)
- 25-44: 868 (24.2%)
- 45-64: 1,040 (29.2%)
- 65-84: 1,081 (30.1%)
- 85+: 194 (5.4%)
Total (including under 1): 3,589
Since March 13 (as of Wednesday)
- 1-14: 15 (1.8%)
- 15-24: 75 (9%)
- 25-44: 202 (24.1%)
- 45-64: 255 (30.4%)
- 65-84: 160 (19.1%)
- 85+: 25 (3%)
Total (including under 1): 837
Source: Utah Department of Health
While some younger groups' percentages of COVID-19 hospitalizations have grown a bit in recent months, it's worth noting that the rate of new hospitalizations is much, much lower. The seven-day running average of new hospitalizations has declined from 81.7 new hospitalizations per day on Jan. 13 to 20.4 per day on April 7 — the earliest date beyond possible reporting delays.
That's also resulted in a decline in new deaths. As of Wednesday, the state health department reported a seven-day running average of 1.6 new COVID-19 deaths on April 7. That's compared to 13.3 new deaths per day on Jan. 13.
Are there any COVID-19 hotspots?
While the good news is that COVID-19 is on the decline in Utah, experts like Dascomb are quick to point out it's not gone entirely. That's why they've urged caution during the vaccination process and after the statewide mask mandate ended.
The state health department's 14-day case incidence map lists nearly the entire state in moderately high, high and very high case rates. Those are based on 50 and more cases per 100,000 over the past two weeks.
While Salt Lake County had the highest overall count of new cases at 1,921 over a two-week span, areas north of it had higher rates per 100,000 people as of Wednesday. But the highest rates per 100,000 people in the state were in southern Utah.
Grand County led with the highest rate. With 46 cases over the past two weeks, the health department stated that its rate was 471.6 per 100,000. Anything over 200 per 100,000 is considered "very high."
14-day case rate, as of Wednesday:
- Grand County: 471.6 (46 total cases)
- Beaver County: 342.8 (23 total cases)
- Iron County: 341 (187 total cases)
- Morgan County: 338.2 (41 total cases)
- Summit County: 244.4 (103 total cases)
- Weber County: 229 (596 total cases)
- Davis County: 204.8 (728 total cases)
- Wasatch County: 199.5 (68 total cases)
- Uintah County: 176.3 (63 total cases)
- Tooele County: 170.2 (123 total cases)
Source: Utah Department of Health
These, of course, are based on actual COVID-19 positive cases. As KSL.com reported last year, other state COVID-19 surveillance data includes wastewater sampling. That is detections of SARS-CoV-2 in sewage areas across the state.
Data pulled from the Utah Department of Environmental Quality on Wednesday show increases were recently detected at the Ashley Valley Cedar City, Central Davis, Hyrum, Jordan Basin, Logan, Price River and Salt Lake City water treatment facilities, with many other locations in the state either have present coronavirus samples and no trends or didn't have any recent data published.
All of this is to say that Utah's COVID-19 outlook is trending in the right direction, but there's still enough of the virus floating around that have left experts cautiously optimistic as the vaccination process continues.
Then there are trends from other states. Dascomb pointed to Michigan and Florida as examples of states dealing with coronavirus variants along with upticks in new cases. Utah has recorded cases of the United Kingdom and Brazil variants, as well as a California variant, but the number of variants remains low, she said.
Still, there is some concern that could change. As temperatures warm up, it's expected that people will travel to Utah from other states and that will likely increase the risk for coronavirus variants spreading into the state.
"We are a great travel state. We're one of the most beautiful places in the country to come and visit, especially if you want to see nature at its finest, and so people are looking to that," she said. "We're going to have a lot more interaction with people across the country that might bring those variants in. We'll still need to be vigilant to make sure and continue to sequence those viruses to see if we have changes over time as we see more travel."
Dascomb recommended Utahns continue to wear masks and follow safety protocols as the vaccination process continues. Those are tactics public health officials hope will continue to lower the count of new cases in the state.