SALT LAKE CITY — Utah surpassed the grim milestone Thursday of 500 deaths from the coronavirus as the number of new cases and hospitalizations continued to break records.
Utah has been in the midst of a record-setting surge in reported coronavirus cases over the past month. The state now ranks fifth in the country for newly confirmed infections per capita, according to data from Johns Hopkins.
Utah set a daily case count record with 1,501 new cases reported Thursday, as well as a record 237 patients who are currently hospitalized.
Dr. Emily Spivak, an infectious diseases physician at University of Utah Health, said the intensive care unit at her hospital had reached 95% capacity. She issued a plea to residents during the governor’s weekly briefing to follow medical recommendations and wear masks so the state’s hospital systems don’t become overwhelmed.
“Our healthcare workers are tired,” Spivak said. “They’re suffering, and they don’t want to see another person die alone of a preventable infection.”
The surge was initially driven by college students in Utah County, home to Brigham Young University and Utah Valley University.
Almost all of the county has been experiencing a decline in new cases for the past few days, state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn said. At the beginning of the spike, Utah County was accounting for 40% of the state’s new cases but this week accounted for 30%.
The county health department issued a face covering mandate in response to the surge over a week ago. For months, Republican Gov. Gary Herbert has urged residents to wear masks but stopped short of ever implementing a statewide order.
There have been over 81,000 reported virus cases in Utah, 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.