SALT LAKE CITY — Last week's 77 COVID-19 deaths were high enough to match the average weekly deaths from heart disease, the top killer of Utahns in 2019.
Dr. Todd Vento, a doctor with Intermountain Healthcare, warned COVID deaths could continue to increase if something isn't done soon.
"What just we're seeing is the natural proportionate increase in deaths because we have a proportionate increase in cases," he said.
Dr. Vento said Utah's COVID death rate isn't increasing, but because we have more cases, we in turn have more deaths.
"That's because we've had more cases, therefore more hospitalizations, therefore more deaths," he added.
Deaths could keep climbing if hospitals around the state continue to see an influx of patients, a grim scenario seen in New York City and other places early on in the pandemic.
"[Their] case-fatality ratio actually climbed because they had less of an ability to keep people alive with COVID because they were stretched thin on resources," Dr. Vento said.
According to the CDC, on average, 77 people died from heart disease every week in Utah in 2019, equal to last week's coronavirus death toll. The total also surpassed other leading killers like cancer, with 64 deaths per week, and strokes, with 18 per week last year.
Hospitals around the state have had to get creative in order to meet the demand in intensive care units. Thanks to their hard work, Utah's COVID death rate has stayed relatively low.
"Our case-fatality ratio for Utah has stayed fairly low compared to many other places for the past 10 months, and we want to keep it that way," Dr. Vento added.
To keep deaths from increasing, and to prevent the morbid scenes seen in New York and Houston, he is asking Utahns to take public health orders seriously.
"We need help. We need folks to not get COVID," Dr. Vento said. "Therefore, they have to really take those measures to heart, and don't gather, and wear a mask all the time, and do your social distancing because that's what's going to stop the increased number of deaths."
With Thanksgiving just days away, Dr. Vento said the biggest thanks the public can give healthcare workers is to follow those guidelines.
"Do the measures, take the measures, to stop the deaths and the hospitalizations and the suffering... That's all we want," he said. "That's thanks enough — just do your job."
With the daily case counts in the 3,000s for much of last week, Dr. Vento said we can expect to see more hospitalizations and more deaths as we head toward the end of the year.