SALT LAKE CITY — Utah reported its single highest case numbers of COVID-19 on the same day Governor Gary Herbert issued new orders loosening some restrictions for communities.
On Friday, the Utah Department of Health reported 343 new cases of COVID-19, bringing a total of 9,264 positive cases since the beginning of the outbreak in mid-March. So far, 205,855 people have been tested (2,348 new) and 753 have been hospitalized (19 new). One new fatality was disclosed, a woman older than 85 in Salt Lake County who was in a long-term care facility.
Dr. Angela Dunn, the state epidemiologist, issued a statement warning about jumping to conclusions with the latest numbers.
"While 343 new cases is the largest, single-day increase we have reported since the beginning of this outbreak, I would caution against jumping to conclusions on what this particular data point might mean. One day does not make a trend," she said. "Comparing weekly cases over the past two weeks, we have seen a three percent increase in daily cases. Specifically, we have seen 1,197 new cases in the current week, compared to 1,162 cases in the week prior."
Dr. Dunn said the increase could be because of a lull in testing over the Memorial Day weekend, or an actual uptick in cases including in places like the Salt Lake Veteran's nursing home. She urged social distancing and wearing face coverings in public when that is not possible.
"As the state has started to loosen restrictions we anticipated seeing new cases. But there are other important measures to consider as well. Namely the proxy transmission rate, which we base on new hospitalizations, and ICU utilization. The statewide transmission rate stands at 1.1 today, and ICU utilization remains well below our threshold level," she said. "We will continue to watch our daily case counts closely, with the goal of preventing widespread, community transmission."
The cases came the same day that Governor Gary Herbert's order moved more communities to a "yellow" or low risk category on the state's color-coded scale. West Valley City, Magna and Grand County were added. Salt Lake City, Bluff and Mexican Hat remain in the "orange" or moderate risk category.
"We feel like we’re ready to go to yellow, but at the same time we’re not dropping any kind of vigilance," West Valley City Manager Wayne Pyle said in an interview with FOX 13.
He said the community may still implement its own restrictions at city-run facilities to slow the spread, but more resources were being directed to neighborhoods and community groups where they would see more transmission. Pyle urged residents to follow essential health guidelines.
"Social distancing and proper social hygiene, personal protective measures. They work. We know it," he said.
Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson said she was glad to see Salt Lake City remain orange, given the high COVID-19 case counts there.
"We don’t see as dramatic an impact in moving from orange to yellow as we did from red to orange," Mayor Wilson told FOX 13. "Therefore, we think we’re going to be OK. But it’s also good to have Salt Lake remain where it is to send a signal to residents of Salt Lake City as well as residents throughout the county that we need to remain thoughtful and remain vigilant."
Mayor Wilson echoed Gov. Herbert's call for people to continue to follow health directives, including remaining six feet apart or wearing a face covering in public and practicing good hygiene and sanitization.
"It’s equally important knowing that we are one county, that we remain focused, diligent, and continue to cover our faces and practice social distancing. That will get us to green," she said.
Grand County, which is home to the tourism destination of Moab, moved to a yellow risk level as Arches and Canyonlands National Parks re-opened to crowds. The county council had asked the governor to allow for additional restrictions, including mandates related to lodging.
Those were rejected by the governor's office, which resisted a mandate on businesses.
"Local and individual decisions are important in tailoring precautions to slow the spread of COVID-19. While the State did not approve Grand County’s request to modify the state’s standard low-risk guidance, we absolutely support the efforts of businesses to keep their employees and customers safe. It is well within the rights of any business to require face coverings — and hotels that wish to limit capacity or require rest periods between room occupancy may continue to do so," said Anna Lehnardt, the governor's communications director.
In a West Valley City park, sisters Valorie Kemp, Sally Koch and Paula Shockey met for lunch for the first time since the pandemic began. The women all wore face masks and wiped down what they touched.
"There’s a lot of anxiety," said Kemp. "I asked them, 'Do either of you have a fever?'"
Added Koch: "She asks us if we took our temperature when we got here!"
They enjoyed their lunch but admitted they were uneasy with some loosening of restrictions by the government. They worried that younger people don't take the health guidelines as seriously. They have isolated themselves from others in their family to avoid contracting COVID-19.
Shockey said her daughter had just recovered from COVID-19 and urged her to take it very seriously.
"This is great! But you know what? I’ll go home and I’ll wash down," she said of sanitizing things. "And I'll do all of that. I love my sisters and I know they’re safe, but it’s still scary."