SALT LAKE CITY — Utah epidemiologist Angela Dunn continued to recommend that citizens practice social distancing, wear face masks in public, and be tested for COVID-19 if they are showing any symptoms. The advice came as four more people reportedly died from the virus within the past 24 hours.
Dunn said the state health department now has enough supplies for anyone showing signs of the virus to be tested. Previously, there was limited equipment and officials could only provide tests to those who showed all of the symptoms.
“Healthcare providers really need to know that the Utah Department of Health recommends that anyone with fever, cough, or shortness of breath, no matter how mild, should be tested for COVID-19,” explained Dunn. “This is essential information that we need as a public health agency in order to contain the epidemic here in Utah.”
Dunn and other members of the Utah Coronavirus Task Force held a press conference Friday as new numbers were released by the Utah Department of Health. They showed that there are now 2,102 cases of the virus within the state, an increase of 126 patients since Thursday afternoon. Those cases have resulted in 183 hospitalizations and 17 deaths. As of Friday, 40,762 people have been tested.
Dunn said the state’s recommendation to wear face masks in public is similar to orders from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The masks do not need to be medical grade and can be cloth and homemade.
“The masks should be used in instances where social distancing of greater than 6 feet away from individuals is not possible,” Dunn said. “Social distancing is still paramount to containing this outbreak. But there are instances such as grocery shopping, going to a pharmacy, where it might be really hard to maintain that 6 feet distance and in those instances it can be helpful for individuals to wear a homemade mask.”
The mask can prevent the wearer from spreading their germs to others but it won’t protect them from getting the illness. For those older than 60, social distancing is still the best preventative measure.
Dunn said even though the state’s numbers continue to be low – about 5 percent of those tested – they show that staying home is still the best preventative measure from contracting the virus. The number of cases could still surge, though, and they are planning for that possibility.
“We are predicting a surge in needed healthcare and hospital beds. We are working to make sure that we’re preparing our healthcare systems if that indeed happens. We don’t have a good prediction, but we are preparing now in the event that any day we could see huge surge.”
Friday’s press conference occurred as Utah became the first state in the country to implement a travel declaration order for people driving or flying into the state. The declaration is voluntary and distributed at the Salt Lake Airport to travelers as they disembark. It is also being texted to the smart phones of motorists driving into the state along the major interstates and highways.
Dunn stressed that even though citizens need to avoid non-necessary travel, they should still try and get out of the house and recreate. She said it is a balancing act, taking care of people’s physical health and their mental well-being.
“We need to find ways to get outside, to move around and keep our physical and mental self healthy, while also still maintaining distance from each other. That is going to be crucial because we are still at the very beginning of this. Our cases are still on a linear growth. We haven’t seen that huge surge. And so that means we might be at the beginning of this, and still might have several more weeks or a couple more months of social distancing.”
Friday’s press conference was held as the Bear River Health Department announced one new case of the virus in Northern Utah. The individual, between the ages of 18-60, is believed to have contracted the virus while traveling and is now self-isolating at home. The new case brings the total of cases to 42, 30 in Cache County and 12 in Box Elder County with none still in Rich County.