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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Gov. Spencer Cox said Thursday the state appears to be headed toward the "other side" after several weeks of a COVID-19 surge.
"Over the last 14 days, our positive tests are down about 20% in the state, and so there are good indicators that we have summited the peak of the delta variant," Cox said during his monthly PBS news conference.
"That's welcome news, obviously, for our hospitals and our front-line workers who have just been slammed over the past few weeks," he said.
Meanwhile on Thursday, the Utah Department of Health reported 1,704 new coronavirus cases and 12 deaths.
The rolling seven-day average for positive tests is now 1,355 per day, and the percent positivity rate of those tested is 14.2%.
Hospitalizations are also starting to decrease, Cox noted, and fatalities should soon begin decreasing.
On Thursday, 566 patients were hospitalized with the novel coronavirus in Utah, an increase of nearly 100 compared to the count reported the previous day. It's unclear if the count reported by the state health department of 471 patients hospitalized was accurate or represented a data error, as some of Utah's largest hospital systems said Wednesday they have not seen a large decrease in patients.
At the same time, testing for the coronavirus has been in high demand for the past several weeks, leading to long waits at many testing sites. "Quite frankly, we fell short of expectations of meeting this demand," Cox said.
Intermountain Healthcare, which previously during the pandemic administered about half of the state's tests daily, needed to reduce those efforts as hospitals became more busy.
Cox said the Utah Department of Health has aimed to improve its testing efforts by hiring more staff and expanding mobile sites and site hours. Now, wait times for most are no more than 20 minutes, and less than five minutes for most, according to the governor.
Cox also announced the state employee insurance company PEHP will soon begin offering financial incentives to employees and their family members who receive the coronavirus vaccine. Company officials believe the savings in hospitalizations will pay for the cost of the incentives.
New test-to-travel program
On Monday, the state will launch a pilot test-to-travel program ahead of the holidays to allow those traveling to other states or countries to receive the tests they need for free with a quick turnaround time, Cox said.
"Many locations across the globe are putting more and more testing restrictions on travelers, even for vaccinated travelers, they're requiring tests … and we want to make it as easy as possible for Utahns," he added.
The testing site at the Utah Department of Health Cannon Building, 288 N. 1460 West in Salt Lake City, will have a line specifically for travelers with a selection of tests required by many locations for traveler entry.
Travelers will need to know which test is required by their destination. The tests will be free to Utahns but available for a fee to nonresidents.
Rapid antigen tests, which yield results in 15 minutes, rapid PCR tests that offer results in less than 24 hours, and traditional PCR tests that take more than 24 hours to process will all be available, Cox said.
He said the state will work with other countries to make sure they recognize the tests offered at the center.
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox provided a COVID-19 pandemic update during his monthly PBS news conference Thursday morning. Watch the replay of the event below.
Latest Utah data
School-age children accounted for 360 of the 1,704 new cases confirmed Thursday — 179 cases were ages 5-10; 65 were ages 11-13, and 116 were 14-17, health officials with the Utah Department of Health said in a daily update.
Since Wednesday's report, 5,739 more residents received a vaccine dose, bringing total doses given in Utah to 3,471,701.
In the last 28 days, unvaccinated residents have seen 5.6 times greater risk of dying from COVID-19, 7.6 times greater risk of being hospitalized,and 6.5 times greater risk of testing positive for COVID-19 than vaccinated people, according to the state health department.
Since Feb. 1, people who are unvaccinated are at 4.0 times greater risk of dying from COVID-19, 4.9 times greater risk of being hospitalized, and 4.2 times greater risk of testing positive for the disease than vaccinated people.
Of the cases reported Thursday, 349 were confirmed as "breakthrough" cases, meaning they had been fully vaccinated more than two weeks ago. The state also confirmed 16 new breakthrough hospitalizations and two breakthrough deaths, according to the data.
State health officials and doctors have noted receiving the vaccine does not mean someone will not contract the coronavirus, but in most cases it is protective against serious illness. The vaccine also does not cause a person to get COVID-19.
Since vaccines became available to the public early this year, the state has confirmed 17,978 breakthrough cases, 918 breakthrough hospitalizations and 122 breakthrough deaths.
The latest deaths:
- A Davis County man, between the ages of 65 and 84, who was hospitalized when he died.
- An Emery County man, 45-64, not hospitalized.
- A Millard County man, 65-84, not hospitalized.
- A Salt Lake County man, older than 85, not hospitalized.
- A Sanpete County resident, sex unknown, older than 85, not hospitalized.
- A Summit County woman, 65-84, hospitalized.
- A Utah County man, 45-64, not hospitalized.
- A Utah County man, 65-84, long-term care facility resident.
- A Utah County man, older than 85, hospitalized.
- Two Washington County men, 65-84, not hospitalized.
- A Weber County man, 65-84, hospitalized.