SALT LAKE CITY — Utah has become one of the top COVID-19 hot spots in the nation as cases of the highly transmissible delta variant continue spreading among unvaccinated people.
The delta variant, which originated in India, now accounts for an estimated 80% of cases in Utah, according to Dr. Michelle Hofmann, the Utah Department of Health's deputy director.
And if you're unvaccinated, it's a matter of when — not if — you'll get the delta variant, which will likely land you in the hospital, health officials said Wednesday.
"A choice to remain unvaccinated is a choice to get COVID," said Dr. Arlen Jarrett, chief medical officer for Steward Health Care. "Don't choose to get COVID, choose to stay well."
State health officials reported 394 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, along with two more deaths and 5,138 vaccinations administered. The state's rolling seven-day average stands at 361 new cases per day.
Utah is now sixth-worst in the United States for COVID-19 case rates, Hofmann said Wednesday during a news conference with Utah health care professionals.
Additionally, June 2021 saw the third highest caseload growth of any month during the pandemic, Hofmann said. Since June 1, COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and percent positivity have all increased by at least 75%, she added.
As of Wednesday, the positive test rate per day for the last week calculated with the "people over people" method is 11.8%. The positive test rate per day for that time period calculated with the "test over test" method is now 7.9%.
A total of 260 COVID-19 patients are now hospitalized in Utah, including 85 in intensive care. About 70% of all intensive care unit beds are now occupied, including about 73% of ICU beds in Utah's 16 referral hospitals, according to state data.
Unvaccinated people are being infected with COVID-19 and getting hospitalized from it at rates six times that of vaccinated people, Hofmann said.
"This is really a critical time in our COVID-19 pandemic response," she said. "We frankly just need more people to be vaccinated."
Prevalence of the delta variant has exploded in Utah over the last month.
In mid-May, just 12% of cases were attributed to the variant, according to health department data. But during the week of June 20, nearly 80% of new cases were the delta variant. Health officials sequence about 50% of new COVID-19 cases to determine which variant of the virus is present in the person who got infected, Hofmann said.
It's spreading almost entirely among unvaccinated people, according to health officials. From May 1 to June 25 in Utah, 93% of new cases and hospitalizations, and 95% of deaths, were unvaccinated people, according to Hofmann.
Those numbers are likely skewed and might be even higher due to over-reporting of "breakthrough" COVID-19 cases among people who were already vaccinated, Hofmann added. People who already got the vaccines are more likely to get tested for COVID-19 if they think they have it than unvaccinated people are, and they're more likely to report those breakthrough cases than the unvaccinated, she said.
A total of 2,890,094 vaccine doses have now been administered in Utah, up from 2,884,956 Tuesday. That includes 1,593,539 Utahns, about 49.7% of the population, who have received at least their first dose, state health data shows. A total of 1,420,408 Utahns, or about 44.3% of the state's population, are now fully vaccinated.
Hofmann acknowledged that Utah has vaccinated 70% of adults, and 25% of kids ages 12 to 15 — two goals state leaders had set earlier this spring. But more people need to get vaccinated so that the surge in new cases can stop before it gets worse, she added.
"The frustrating part about all of this is that unlike last year, we have all of the tools to stop this pandemic in its tracks," Hofmann said.
Both deaths reported Wednesday were hospitalized Iron County residents who were between the ages of 45 and 64. One was male and the other was female, according to the health department. COVID-19 and its variants have led to the deaths of 2,387 people in Utah since April 2020.
Wednesday's numbers indicate a 0.1% increase in cases since Tuesday, according to the health department. Of the 2,816,448 Utahns tested for COVID-19 so far, 14.8% have tested positive. The number of total tests conducted since Utah's pandemic began is now at 5,141,040, up 6,632 since Tuesday. Of those, 3,619 were tests of people who hadn't previously been tested for COVID-19.
Wednesday's totals bring Utah to 417,653 COVID-19 cases, 17,690 hospitalizations and 2,387 since the pandemic began.
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.