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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah public health officials reported more than 1,000 new COVID-19 cases for the second day in a row Friday, and one physician said to expect that things could get even worse as school starts this fall.
The Utah Department of Health reported 1,211 new coronavirus cases Friday, along with one more death and 351 hospitalizations. That's the highest single-day case total since 1,299 cases were reported on Feb. 10. Before Thursday, Utah hadn't reported over 1,000 cases in a single day since Feb. 18.
Another 7,389 vaccinations were reported Friday.
COVID-19 hospitalizations have continued along a "disturbing" recent trend, said Dr. Eddie Stenehjem, an infectious diseases physician for Intermountain Healthcare. New virus cases and hospitalizations have gone up steadily over the past month, and now Intermountain Healthcare hospitals are over 85% full, according to Stenehjem. When hospitals operate at 85-90% capacity, they aren't very efficient, he added.
"It's certainly a disturbing trend," he said Friday during a news conference. "We hope we can change course."
Of the 351 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Utah as of Friday, 152 are in intensive care units, according to the health department. About 86% of ICU beds are occupied in Utah as of Friday, including about 89% of ICU beds at the state's 16 referral hospitals. At that capacity, hospitals are essentially out of ICU beds because they aren't able to provide staff for any more beds.
If Utah continues on its current trajectory, the state will likely be right back in the same situation as it was in December and January, Stenehjem said. Utah experienced its worst spike of the pandemic during those months last winter.
With school starting in a few weeks, things could get even worse, Stenehjem said. There is new science that suggests the delta COVID-19 variant might be as contagious as chicken pox. If that's the case, the disease could spread wildly among school children, who could in turn bring the disease back home and spread it among their parents, grandparents and other family members, he added.
He recommends that anyone with school-aged children make sure their kids wear masks when they go back to school. With a more transmissible variant of the disease, previous public health measures employed in schools to prevent the spread of the disease — such as spacing out desks and increasing ventilation — might not be as effective, Stenehjem said.
If you're fully vaccinated and get infected with the delta variant, you can still spread it, he said, adding that he and his family members, who are fully vaccinated, will be wearing masks in public indoor settings because of that.
"Essentially everybody should be wearing a mask indoors," he said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that fully vaccinated people continue to wear masks in public indoor settings, reversing course on its previous guidance.
But Stenehjem pointed out that the pandemic has featured rapidly changing and evolving conditions as scientists and public health officials try to keep up with a dangerous virus that continues to mutate.
"This is such a rapidly changing environment," he said. "You're seeing scientists do the best they can do."
Stenehjem said that even as an infectious diseases physician who has studied things like COVID-19 for decades, he can't keep up with all the scientific literature that's being put out. When you see the CDC or other public health agencies reversing course, it's because they're trying to keep up with scientific knowledge that is changing and evolving, he said.
The CDC will almost certainly change its guidance on more things in the future, Stenehjem said, but people need to accept that that will happen and trust that scientists are doing the best they can.
"We're seeing rapidly evolving science right in front of our eyes, and it's incredible and it's fast-paced," he said. "I recognize that this is really hard for the general public, and I can tell you that we're doing the best we can."
Utah's rolling seven-day average for positive cases is now at 755. The positive test rate per day for that time period calculated with the "people over people" method is now 14.7%. The positive test rate per day for that time period calculated with the "test over test" method is now 10.4%.
A total of 1,668,260 Utahns, which is about 52% of the state's total population, have now received at least a first vaccine dose. A total of 1,478,589 Utahns, about 46.1% of the total population, are now fully vaccinated. For vaccine-eligible Utahns ages 12 and older, 64.4% have received at least a first dose, and 57% are fully vaccinated.
The death reported Friday was a Salt Lake County woman who was between the ages of 65 and 84 and was not hospitalized when she died.
Of the 2,917,728 people tested for COVID-19 in Utah so far, 14.8% have tested positive for COVID-19. The number of total tests conducted in Utah since the pandemic began is now up to 5,312,717, an increase of 12,646 since Thursday. Of those, 7,589 were tests of people who hadn't previously been tested for COVID-19.
Friday's totals give Utah 432,467 total confirmed cases, with 18,567 total hospitalizations and 2,451 total deaths from the disease.
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.