SALT LAKE CITY — Utah reported 15 more coronavirus deaths following medical examiner investigations on Friday as the pandemic spikes in the state.
Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Erik Christensen said his office has seen a “notable increase” in the number of virus-related death investigations they’ve conducted in the past few days. Nine of the 15 deaths reported Friday hit last week, preceded by two earlier in September, two in August and two in July.
“Let me be clear, these deaths are preventable,” Christensen said in a statement. “None of the individuals who we determine to have died from COVID-19 would have suffered this fate at the time they did had they not been infected with COVID-19.”
Utah has been in the midst of a record-setting surge in reported coronavirus cases over the past month largely driven by college-age students in Utah County, home to Brigham Young University and Utah Valley University. The state now ranks fourth in the country for newly confirmed COVID-19 infections per capita, according to data from Johns Hopkins.
Utah County’s health department issued a face covering mandate in response to the surge over a week ago. Republican Gov. Gary Herbert has urged residents to wear masks for months but stopped short of ever implementing a statewide order.
The health department's announcement comes after Republican Utah Sen. Mike Lee revealed Friday he was infected with the coronavirus just hours after President Donald Trump said he and his wife had the disease.
There have been over 75,000 reported virus cases in Utah, and 474 people have died, according to state data. The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.