OGDEN — As the number of new COVID-19 cases in Weber County continues to spike, coronavirus-related complaints have also started to edge upward.
The figures don’t track with the dramatic rise in COVID-19 cases since mid-September, with record case totals in each of the last four weeks. But the number of complaints for October, 30, while about half the 58 complaints registered last May, reflects an increase from August, 26 complaints, and September, 18 complaints. The 58 complaints in May — for things like not using masks in businesses — represents the biggest monthly total here so far during the pandemic.
“There’s probably a correlation between higher (COVID-19 case) numbers and an increase in complaints,” said Michela Harris, director of environmental health for the Weber-Morgan Health Department.
Harris also cited the move by state officials in October to a new classification system of the danger posed by COVID-19, county by county, called the transmission index. State officials have put increased urgency on following guidelines meant to keep COVID-19 from spreading and, accordingly, people are “aware of the need for masks and social distancing and probably notice more when it’s not being done.”
According to data which covers complaints from both Weber and Morgan counties, though most come from Weber County, complaints bulleted upward in May to 58, soon after the pandemic started to hit Utah and the United States in March. They tapered downward through September, ahead of the turn back upward in October.
Most complaints have been made against food operations, 540 of the 751 between March and Oct. 26 — the period covered by the data provided by the health department. That’s about 72% of the total. The other 211 are split among retail establishments, fitness centers, salons and other businesses.
The higher complaint rate among eateries “may just be a matter of the public knowing that the health department inspects restaurants, not necessarily that they have a higher number of violations. It’s possible that complaints at different types of businesses are addressed through management and not necessarily reported to the local health departments,” Harris said.
Lack of masks, meanwhile, is one of the biggest points of contention, accounting for 169 of the 524 total complaints. The more generic complaint of not properly following COVID-19 guidelines accounted for 212 complaints while 72 complaints stemmed from lack of social distancing, according to the data.
Despite the numbers, Harris has sensed a willingness to abide by guidelines meant to help stop the spread of COVID-19. “Overall we’ve had very good compliance with our food facilities in Weber and Morgan counties,” she said.
When complaints come in, a health department representative will typically call someone from the business and advise them of the guidelines. “We want to empower them to enforce policies and guidance in their own establishment,” Harris said. A second complaint will result in an inspection and more education efforts while a third complaint can lead to a permit suspension.
CASES GOING UP AND UPIn the meantime, the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rocket upward.
For the week ending last Saturday, the number of cases in Weber and Morgan counties totaled 887, a new high and a jump of 99 from the 788 cases for the week ending Oct. 24, according to Weber-Morgan Health Department data.
The transmission index for Weber County as determined by the Utah Department of Health ranked “high,” along with 21 of Utah’s other 28 counties. The categorization is a measure of the virus’ presence in a community.
The 14-day case count measured 1,740 as of Thursday, up from 1,050 on Oct. 22, a sign that COVID-19’s presence is intensifying. The seven-day average positive rate for those getting tested for COVID-19 was 17.6%, up from 12.2% two weeks ago.
In Davis County, the case count for the week ending last Saturday reached 1,010, a record there and up from 846 the week prior, according to Davis County Health Department data.
Davis County also had a “high” transmission index ranking. The 14-day case count in Davis County reached 2,001 as of Thursday, up from 1,582 on Oct. 22, according to the Utah Department of Health. The seven-day average positive rate for those getting tested for COVID-19 was 15.9%, up from 13.1% two weeks ago.
“Just one day ago, on Wednesday, we hit a record high for cases at 306,” Trevor Warner, spokesman for the Davis County Health Department, said Thursday, with projections for a new weekly high come Saturday. “This outbreak is intensifying at an alarming rate.”
Addressing the issue hinges on public adherence to guidelines meant to prevent its spread, he said.