SALT LAKE CITY — As Utah continues confirming high rates of COVID-19 cases after the Labor Day weekend, hospital officials say they are preparing for a potential surge on hospitals.
"We're at capacity or above capacity at all of the major COVID hubs across the Intermountain system. Some of our major COVID hospitals are actually well above capacity and are having to use creative means of maintaining access for patients in the ICU," Dr. Brandon Webb, Intermountain Healthcare infectious disease physician, said Wednesday during a news conference.
Utah confirmed 1,539 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday and eight new deaths. School-age children account for 362 of the new cases — 138 cases are ages 5-10, 99 cases are 11-13, and 125 cases are 14-17, according to the Utah Department of Health.
The rolling, seven-day average for new cases now stands at 1,362, and the percent positivity rate of those tested is 12.4%. On Wednesday, 483 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in Utah, just one more bed occupied than the previous day. Referral ICUs that can treat the most seriously ill patients were 88.2% full with coronavirus patients and others, and overall ICU usage stands at 84.6%. Non-ICUs are 56.8% full.
Morale and staffing remain an issue at hospitals, Webb said. Hospitals are continuing to "load level," which means transferring patients between other hospitals and even other systems to deal with capacity constraints.
Staffing is "critical" now, and "we're seeing fatigue, especially on the cases of nursing and other health care providers who are on the front lines," Webb explained.
As community spread of coronavirus and other seasonal illnesses continues to increase, Webb said more health care workers are also needing to take time off from work to help sick family members.
"And that's taking away from our workforce, and we expect unfortunately that that type of thing — those household exposures — will continue to impact our workforce as well," he said.
Based on what Utah has experienced throughout the pandemic following holidays, officials anticipate a surge.
"And we're bracing for that. I think we expect that over the next couple of weeks, we likely will see increased numbers of new cases, and new cases then lead to new hospitalizations," Webb said.
But he acknowledged it will be difficult to differentiate between a holiday surge and the ongoing back-to-school surge.
The Utah Department of Health did not release the latest vaccine totals Wednesday because that data is undergoing a quality analysis.
In the last 28 days, unvaccinated residents have faced 4.4 times greater risk of dying from COVID-19, 6.2 times greater risk of being hospitalized due to COVID-19, and 5.4 times greater risk of testing positive for COVID-19 than vaccinated people, according to the health department. Since Feb. 1, people who are unvaccinated have been at 5.2 times greater risk of dying from COVID-19, 5.2 times greater risk of being hospitalized due to COVID-19, and 4.5 times greater risk of testing positive for COVID-19 than vaccinated people.
Confirmed breakthrough cases have accounted for 12,169 cases in Utah, 658 hospitalizations and 66 deaths. Cases are considered breakthrough if the person was fully vaccinated more than two weeks ago. They have accounted for about 2.6% of the state's total cases since the start of the pandemic, 3.2% of hospitalizations and 2.5% of deaths to date.
The latest deaths:
- A Davis County woman older than 85, who was a long-term care facility resident.
- An Iron County woman between the ages of 15 and 24 who was hospitalized when she died. Health officials said it was "not a school-aged death."
- An Iron County man, 65-84, hospitalized.
- A Salt Lake County man, 25-44, hospitalized.
- A Salt Lake County woman, older than 85, hospitalized.
- A Utah County man, 65-84, hospitalized.
- Two Washington County men, 65-84, both hospitalized.