SALT LAKE CITY — The frustration was evident in their voices and on their faces.
"I don’t know what to do anymore," state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn said. "We as a state, we have set the table, we're prioritizing and focusing on individuals taking responsibility to slow the spread of COVID-19."
As COVID-19 cases surged to a new high — 1,543 new cases on Thursday and six new deaths — hospitalizations are climbing and Utah's health care systems are beginning to feel overwhelmed. The cause is largely attributed to people disregarding health guidelines, including not limiting their social gatherings.
"I’m really not trying to scare anyone. I’m just trying to inform you of what’s going on and give you the facts of what’s going on in the pandemic," Dr. Dunn said.
On Thursday, the state moved 16 more counties to the highest levels of its transmission index. Now, most of the state is under high risk/restriction levels. That means face coverings are mandatory and casual gatherings among family and friends are limited to less than 10 people. Businesses can operate as normal, but with their own health restrictions.
Inside Utah's hospitals, intensive care units are filling up. They are already starting to move patients around to make room. Dr. Eddie Stenehjem, an infectious disease specialist at Intermountain Healthcare, said they were preparing for another surge and opening up overflow areas.
"For the first time as a physician, I’m scared to see what’s to come. I’m scared about the next few months of what we’ll endure in Utah, unless something changes," he said.
Dr. Stenehjem said he did rounds, checking on COVID-19 patients on Thursday at Intermountain Medical Center.
"Patients in our hospital range from 19-90 years old," he said. "Half of them are in the ICU. All of them are suffering. They’re alone. Many won’t make it, unfortunately."
He said it is preventable, if people follow the health guidelines of physical distancing, wearing face coverings, practicing good hygiene and limiting their social gatherings.
"As cases climb, our caregivers are becoming stretched thin, as we care for more and more COVID-19 patients and we as more and more of them. Our caregivers are tired. They’re emotionally spent. They’re frustrated and sometimes they're even angry," Dr. Stenehjem said. "They're frustrated when we see individuals and communities and occasionally local governments not heeding the advice of scientists and public health experts to follow simple public health measures."
In his own remarks, Governor Gary Herbert pleaded with Utahns to abide by the public health guidelines. But he acknowledged at his monthly news conference on Thursday that there is not much more they can do to force people to be better.
"We’ve put a policy in place that I think will work," he said of the new risk levels and restrictions.
Gov. Herbert said government can only demand so much of people. He pointed out the state now operates under a mask mandate.
"It is, at the end of the day, are you willing to Ben, and I willing to Gary, all of us willing to in fact, do our part by following the proper protocols to minimize ourself, our loved ones and the community at large?" he said.
It will take another week to begin to see the effects of the new restrictions. The governor said the goal was to minimize risk until a vaccine is in place and the state is trying to balance lives and the economy.
Counties in High Level of Transmission - Masks Required
- Box Elder
- Salt Lake
- San Juan
Counties in Moderate Level of Transmission - Masks directed by public health until 10/29.
Counties in Low Level of Transmission - Masks strongly recommended
Watch the governor's news conference here: