SALT LAKE CITY — Utah health officials continued to report the number of COVID-19 cases are plateauing but need to improve before further recommendations can be lifted. The news came during a press conference Monday afternoon at the state capitol, more than 10 days after the state transitioned from high to moderate risk.
Utah epidemiologist Angela Dunn said the number of virus cases have flattened since May 1st. There is also sufficient hospital capacity and stable testing numbers.
“This is a sign that people are taking our public health recommendations seriously,” said Dunn. “Social distancing when possible. Teleworking when possible. Wearing masks in crowded places. Using good hand hygiene and staying home when ill.”
Details were also given about a free call center for high risk individuals that are needing help with meal, grocery or medication delivery. The telephone number is 877-424-4640 and operates Monday-Friday, from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. The hotline is staffed by representatives from the Utah Department of Health and Human Services Department that have resources available to those in the high risk category, or who are caring for those in that group.
Dunn said one of the statistics officials are watching is the transmission rate, the number of people to whom an infected person spreads the virus. The rate, which is currently around 1.2 percent, is expected to go up as the economy opens.
“What we are really aiming to do for this pandemic is to get to a transmission rate of less than 1. That’s how you know that it’s getting under control. It means that your case rate is decreasing, so you are seeing a decrease in cases every day. That is really an important place for us to get to. That won’t be able to be stabilized until a lot of people have immunity to COVID-19, either from getting the disease themselves or from a vaccine. So, we do have a little ways to go in terms of getting that transmission rate less than 1 for a stable period of time.”
Monday’s press conference was held after the Utah Department of Health confirmed 111 new virus cases, a 1.8 percent growth increase. The numbers showed a total of 6,362 cases within the state, resulting in 517 hospitalizations throughout the outbreak. It is also estimated that 3,181 patients have recovered. One more death was reported, raising the total number of fatalities to 68. The Salt Lake County man was under the age of 60 and in the hospital when he passed away.
Dunn said the number of cases have plateaued for a couple weeks, which has been a good sign. It is not expected that the numbers will improve enough to merit shifting the state to yellow by the end of the week.
“We are looking for that decline and that is just something we haven’t seen yet. We are really working hard to do that and some of the tactics we are taking include identifying hot spots really quickly and moving to contain the spread.”
Monday’s state capitol press conference was held as the Bear River Health Department reported two new cases of the virus in the past day. The total number of cases in northern Utah is 80. There are 59 in Cache County, 21 in Box Elder County and none in Rich County. They have also performed 4,673 tests. The number of virus cases compared to tests performed is 1.71 percent, drastically lower than the state positive rate of 4.2 percent.
Dunn said health officials are continuing to learn more about COVID-19 each day and how it infects people. Because there is no treatment or vaccine, it can’t be compared to other types of the flu.
“You’ve got the flu that has a vaccine and treatment and we can predict it, yet it still strains our healthcare system every single year during flu season. With COVID-19, we don’t have a vaccine, we don’t have treatment and we can’t predict it. So, it is something where we have to take social distancing and other measures in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”
The Idaho Department of Health continues to report no positive cases of the virus in Franklin, Bear Lake or Oneida counties. There have been a total of 2,230 cases reported and 67 deaths.