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'We're still in the thick of it': Utah reports 1,637 new COVID-19 cases, 11 deaths Friday

Medical staff treat a patient at Intermountain Healthcare's Utah Valley Hospital's COVID-19 intensive care unit in Provo on Aug. 25. Utah health officials reported 1,637 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, as well as 11 deaths.

Medical staff treat a patient at Intermountain Healthcare's Utah Valley Hospital's COVID-19 intensive care unit in Provo on Aug. 25. Utah health officials reported 1,637 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, as well as 11 deaths. (Intermountain Healthcare)

Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah health officials reported 1,637 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, as well as 11 deaths.

School-age children accounted for 362 of the latest cases — 187 were children ages 5-10, 77 were ages 11-13, and 98 were ages 14-17, according to the latest update provided by the Utah Department of Health.

The rolling, seven-day average for positive tests is now 1,424 per day, and the average for percent positivity of those tested is 15.4%.

Utah ICUs continue to be full

The "COVID hub," or main hospitals treating COVID-19, report statewide intensive care unit occupancy at 99%, and 45% of all ICU patients are said to have COVID-19. Intermountain Healthcare hospitals are at 98%. Dr. Eddie Stenehjem, an infectious disease specialist at Intermountain, is calling it a "high plateau" that he estimates won't go back down for another two to four weeks.

"We're still in the thick of it," he said during a virtual press conference Friday. He added that this stretch of hospitals functioning at or near 100% capacity is either longer or equivalent to a significant surge in COVID-19 cases last November that lasted through January.

The hospitals are still delaying non-urgent surgeries that require ICU beds for recovery. Stenehjem said they are load-leveling, meaning if someone comes into a hospital and there aren't available beds, they will be sent to another hospital; but Intermountain hospitals are unable to accept transfer requests from out of state.

For people who are experiencing life-threatening emergencies like heart attack or stroke symptoms, Stenehjem emphasized that they should not hesitate to come to the hospital and "we will find you care."

That care, however, does come at a cost.

Opening up an ICU bed for an emergency like this requires patients who are still quite sick to be moved onto the medical floor, where nurses and staff are not used to caring for patients who are ill at that level. It also stretches the abilities of health care workers, who are then being asked to take on more and more patients during their shifts, contributing to more pressure on an already overworked, burned out staff, he said.

It wears on doctors and nurses and other health care workers to keep treating patients daily whose illnesses and deaths are likely preventable, not to mention having the same conversations with those patients and families every day, Stenehjem explained.

"Our caregivers are getting very good at caring for COVID patients, getting really accustomed to it, but it is really sad," he said.

Although some states have also been experiencing a rapid influx of delta variant cases, other states, like Florida and Alabama have also seen a rapid decrease in cases, which is not currently happening in Utah. Stenehjem attributes this, in part, to the fact that those other states experienced delta variant surges during the summer and the one in Utah hit just when kids were going back to school.

However, he doesn't anticipate that the winter months and the holiday season will result in quite as big of a COVID-19 surge as last year. That's because over 50% of Utah residents are vaccinated and no longer high-risk, and people who have gotten COVID-19 recently have a certain degree of natural immunity.

"That being said, I said that over the summer and look where we are," Stenehjem said, adding that he doesn't expect that COVID-19 will be going away this winter or even next year. Also, with people not masking or social distancing as much and traveling more than last year, the hospitals are seeing more cases of other respiratory viruses like RSV, especially among kids.

He advised people who are interested in booster doses to "get ready" because there's more information to come, as the science is still actively in flux. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration will be reviewing Moderna and Johnson & Johnson booster vaccines later this month, but there is already evidence that boosting works and that it is safe.

Latest Utah data

Health care workers administered another 9,282 vaccine doses since Thursday's report, bringing total doses given in the state to 3,548,335.

The state health department announced changes to how it calculates risk ratios for unvaccinated residents on the statewide COVID-19 dashboard. The department is now reporting age-adjusted risk ratios.

"This is an important update that more accurately reflects the risk for the overall population. The change will result in higher risk ratios for the unvaccinated for being hospitalized and dying. This is because the prior method, that did not age-adjust, biased the data toward older adults who are more likely to be both vaccinated and hospitalized or die from COVID-19 than younger people. By age-adjusting, we are better reflecting the true risk for all Utahns," officials with the department said in a statement.

According to the new age-adjusted data, in the last 28 days, unvaccinated residents have faced 15.8 times greater risk of dying from the coronavirus, 12.1 times greater risk of being hospitalized, and 6.8 times greater risk of testing positive.

Since Feb. 1, the unvaccinated have seen 9.8 times greater risk of dying from COVID-19, 7.8 times greater risk of being hospitalized due to COVID-19, and 4.1 times greater risk of testing positive for COVID-19 than vaccinated people, the state health department said.

Of Friday's cases, 354 were confirmed as "breakthrough" cases, meaning they had been fully vaccinated more than two weeks ago. The state also confirmed 15 new breakthrough hospitalizations and three 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 20,606 breakthrough cases, 1,051 breakthrough hospitalizations and 136 breakthrough deaths.

There have been 2,994 total COVID-19 deaths in Utah during the pandemic.

On Friday, 572 patients were receiving treatment for the disease across Utah hospitals, an increase of five since Thursday.

The latest deaths were:

  • A Cache County man, between 45 and 64, who was hospitalized when he died.
  • A Juab County man, 65-84, hospitalized.
  • Three Sanpete County men, 65-84, all hospitalized.
  • A Sanpete County woman, 65-84, hospitalized.
  • A Salt Lake County man, 45-64, hospitalized.
  • A Uintah County man, 65-84, hospitalized.
  • A Utah County man, 25-44, hospitalized.
  • A Washington County woman, 65-84, hospitalized.
  • A Weber County man, 65-84, long-term care facility resident.

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