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'This is heartbreaking to watch': Utah reports nearly 900 new COVID-19 cases as surge continues

Dr. Kencee Graves, associate chief medical officer for inpatient services at University of Utah Health, speaks about COVID-19 during a news conference on Wednesday, July 21, 2021.

Dr. Kencee Graves, associate chief medical officer for inpatient services at University of Utah Health, speaks about COVID-19 during a news conference on Wednesday, July 21, 2021. (University of Utah Health, via Zoom)



SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Department of Health reported 873 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday — the first time since February that the state has seen over 800 cases in one day.

Wednesday's is the highest single-day case total since 832 cases were reported on Feb. 25, according to the health department. Four deaths from the disease were also reported Wednesday, and 295 COVID-19 patients are currently hospitalized.

Another 6,434 new vaccinations were reported Wednesday.

Of the 295 hospitalized COVID-19 patients, 121 are in intensive care units, according to health officials. About 78% of all ICU hospital beds in Utah are now occupied, including about 82% of ICU beds at the state's 16 referral hospitals. At that capacity, there is a major strain on the health care system in the state.

"This is heartbreaking to watch," said Dr. Kencee Graves, associate chief medical officer for inpatient services at University of Utah Health. "This is not suffering that needs to be happening."

As hospitalizations continue going up, Graves said the U. is "extremely busy." Hospitals are also dealing with staffing shortages after a grueling pandemic that has burnt out many health care professionals. The U. currently has 700 open positions, and Intermountain Healthcare has 1,000 job openings, Graves added.

Health care workers in the state are "struggling with the reality that we are moving into another phase where we are going to be full again," said Dr. Brandon Webb, an infectious disease physician with Intermountain Healthcare.

"The pandemic has taken its toll emotionally and psychologically on all of us," Webb said.

University of Utah Health has started to postpone some surgical procedures to reserve space in hospitals for COVID-19 patients, Graves said. Intermountain is not postponing any surgeries as of Wednesday, but officials are watching the situation closely, Webb said.

The rolling seven-day average for positive cases in Utah is now at 622 per day. The positive test rate per day for that time period calculated with the "people over people" method is now 13.4%. The positive test rate per day for that time period calculated with the "test over test" method is now 9.3%.

Utah's current COVID-19 spike has been attributed to the spread of the highly transmissible delta variant among unvaccinated Utahns. The variant strain was first detected in India in December.

Webb estimated that the delta variant likely accounts for about 85% of cases in Utah. It is now the dominant COVID-19 variant worldwide and is thought to be more contagious than other strains of the disease.

Graves and Webb said the vast majority of COVID-19 patients in their respective hospitals were not vaccinated.

The health department doesn't make data available on breakthrough cases — those COVID-19 cases that were diagnosed in fully vaccinated patients — until several days later. The seven-day period from July 12-18, the most recent week for which those data are available, shows 626 breakthrough cases, along with 3,368 COVID-19 cases in people who were not vaccinated.

That means that about 15.7% of cases over that period were in fully vaccinated patients, while 84% were in unvaccinated patients, according to health department data. Utah's seven-day case rate for unvaccinated people is 214.8 as of Wednesday, compared to 36.9 in vaccinated people.

Utah health officials pleaded with people to get vaccinated against COVID-19 if they haven't already.

"We have the tool to end the disruption and inconveniences of COVID-19 on our lives and the economy — vaccination," the health department said in a statement. "We ask all Utahns to carefully consider getting vaccinated and to seek out credible information about the vaccines from their health care provider and reputable health organizations."

About 51% of Utah's total population — or a total of 1,634,414 residents — has received at least a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, according to the health department. About 45.4% of the population — or a total of 1,456,605 Utahns — is now fully vaccinated. A total of 2,963,291 vaccine doses have now been administered in the state.

Of the 2,872,453 people tested for COVID-19 in Utah so far, 14.8% have tested positive for COVID-19. The number of total tests conducted since the pandemic began in Utah is now 5,236,674, up 9,335 since Tuesday. Of those, 5,004 were tests of people who hadn't previously been tested for COVID-19.

The four deaths reported Wednesday were:

  • A Salt Lake County man between the ages of 45 and 64 who was hospitalized when he died.
  • A Salt Lake County woman, 25-54, hospitalized.
  • A Uintah County woman, 45-64, hospitalized.
  • A Utah County man, 45-64, hospitalized.

Wednesday's totals give Utah 425,603 total confirmed cases, with 18,204 total hospitalizations and 2,424 total deaths from the disease.

Methodology

See more details about KSL.com's COVID-19 data and methodology by clicking this link.

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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