SALT LAKE CITY — Utah health officials continued to reiterate that the state will remain at the moderate risk level but expressed optimism that some counties might be able to loosen restrictions soon. The information came as three new cases of COVID-19 were reported in northern Utah.
Utah epidemiologist Angela Dunn said the virus continues to be impacting the state differently. They are reviewing case data for each health district on a county-by-county basis.
“There are certainly some places in Utah that have seen a decrease in cases, while maintaining testing capacity and still having hospital surge capacity as well,” explained Dunn. “So, those places will likely be able to move a little quicker to yellow. In terms of a blanket state-wide order, I think that is a little tougher because we do still have some jurisdictions that are seeing an increase of cases and might not be ready yet to take that complete transition to yellow.”
Northern Utah could be one of the areas to transition soon. The three counties of the Bear River Health District have reported some of the fewest virus cases compared to the population. The number of positive cases compared to tests given also remains around 1.7 percent, much lower than the state’s average of 4.2 percent.
Dunn said it is possible that restrictions could be lifted in the north and south ends of the state, while areas along the Wasatch front remain under moderate restrictions. She did not provide a specific timetable for when permission could be granted.
“Absolutely, I think that is a possibility, given the different jurisdictions experiencing the outbreak in different ways and having peaks at different times that we can expect maybe the policies might be changing at different times for the jurisdictions.”
Wednesday’s press conference was held after the Utah Department of Health confirmed 188 new virus cases, a 2.9 percent growth increase. The numbers showed a total of 6,620 cases within the state, resulting in 553 hospitalizations throughout the outbreak. It is also estimated that 3,406 patients have recovered. Two more deaths were reported, raising the total number of fatalities to 75. The two Salt Lake County residents were patients at long-term care facilities when they passed away.
Dunn said it is important for Utahns to continue following health guidelines. Social distancing, staying home when possible, and wearing a face mask in public has kept the number of cases low, which has left some residents asking why the restrictions are still in place.
“It can be hard for individuals to understand why we are asking them to continue limiting their exposure to certain people and maintain social distancing practices when we aren’t seeing those deaths and the disease at really high levels here in Utah. I can understand how people are anxious to get back to daily life but we’re not going back to ‘normal’ for some time.”
Wednesday’s state capitol press conference was held as the Bear River Health Department reported two new virus cases in Box Elder County and one in Cache County during the past day. Two of the patients were under the age of 18. The other one was between the ages of 18-60. The new cases increase the total, cumulative number in northern Utah to 83. There are 60 in Cache County, 23 in Box Elder County and none in Rich County.
Dunn explained that officials are working with several universities to design models to predict how the virus will continue to spread throughout the state. She admitted, though, that there is no way to accurately predict the future until a vaccine becomes available.
“There are a couple options that are based upon building herd immunity. We are not going to be able to prevent disease effectively until 60-80 percent of the population is immune to COVID-19. That happens in two ways, people get infected or they get a vaccine. We have such low prevalence of COVID-19, my guess is that we are less than five percent, and we are doing studies now to more accurately predict that. We are far away from herd immunity due to everybody being infected.”
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 2,293 cases reported and 69 deaths in Idaho.