As health officials warn that Utah hospitals could be overwhelmed if the rate of COVID-19 infections in the state continues climbing, an analysis of health data shows that Utah may be among the states least equipped to handle a surge in coronavirus cases.

The analysis, which was done by the company QuoteWizard, looked at Kaiser Family Foundation data on hospital beds and the number of physicians per 1,000 people for each state, as well as Centers for Disease Control (CDC) data on the percentage of inpatient beds occupied by COVID-19 patients.

“The health care system’s capacity to handle COVID-19 is dependent on how many people have access to critical health care components like hospital beds, nurses, doctors and equipment like ventilators,” Adam Johnson of QuoteWizard wrote on July 14. “The analysis is intended to show where cases are spiking; there’s a correlation between hospital capacity and how prepared states’ hospital systems were before the pandemic.”

Analysts ranked states based on four criteria: physicians per 1,000 people, hospital beds per 1,000 people, percentage of COVID-19 cases occupying beds and growth in the state’s seven-day rolling average between June and July.

Based on all four categories, the analysts ranked Utah as the state “considered (the) least prepared for hospital capacity.”

The surrounding states of Idaho, Nevada and Arizona filled the other top three spots of states least equipped for a surge in COVID-19 cases, followed by Hawaii, Colorado and Texas. West Virginia, New York, Pennsylvania, Nebraska, Missouri and Ohio were ranked as the states most equipped to deal with a surge in cases.

According to the analysis of Kaiser Family Foundation data, Utah has 2.11 physicians per thousand people, which is below the nationwide average of 2.96. Idaho, Nevada and Wyoming are the only states with lower ratios of physicians to people, while Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York have the most physicians per 1,000 people.

Utah has the third lowest number of beds per 1,000 people, 1.82, compared to the national average, 2.4. Oregon and Washington both have lower bed-to-people ratios than Utah. South Dakota has the highest number of beds per 1,000 people, 4.76, followed by North Dakota, Mississippi, West Virginia and Nebraska.

Utah ranks much lower in other categories, like the percentage of inpatient beds occupied by coronavirus patients, 4.8%, compared to 28.4% in Arizona, 16.3% in Florida and 16% in Texas.

Utah ranks below the national average in growth of the seven-day moving average of cases between June 7 and July 7, which is up 148% nationally and 70% in Utah.

The states with the highest percentage of growth in average cases are Montana, 1,175%; Florida, 736%; and Idaho, 716%; and the states with the lowest percentage increases are Connecticut, New Hampshire and Massachusetts, where growth in average cases dropped 71%, 68% and 53%, respectively.

Utah health officials have said the state’s hospitals could be overwhelmed if daily case numbers continue on the same trajectory.

On July 8, Tracy Hill, chief medical officer of Utah Valley Hospital in Provo, told the Utah County Commission that COVID-19 hospitalizations had “been rising” and, if daily cases continued to rise into August, “we will be stretching our capacity to care for these folks.”

“Right now, we are in pretty good shape,” said Hill. “That said, if this surge continues on the rate we’re currently on, we could be … overwhelmed.”

On July 10, executives from University of Utah Health and Intermountain Healthcare called on Gov. Gary Herbert to implement a statewide mask mandate, citing a decline in availability of intensive care unit (ICU) beds.

More than 60% of ICU beds in hospitals statewide were occupied as of Monday, according to the Utah Department of Health. Just under 54% of non-ICU beds were occupied as of Monday.

The full analysis of state preparedness for surges in COVID-19 cases can be viewed at http://quotewizard.com/news/posts/states-prepared-for-hospital-capacity.

Connor Richards covers government, the environment and south Utah County for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at crichards@heraldextra.com and 801-344-2599.

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