SALT LAKE CITY — An unidentified Davis County man has become the state’s first death linked to the COVID-19 virus outbreak.
The man died Sunday morning at Lakeview Hospital in Bountiful, where he was being treated for the virus, according to a news released from the Utah Department of Health. Specific details are not being released, but the man was older than age 60 and had underlying medical conditions. He was hospitalized for two days before his death.
In a news conference Sunday afternoon, Angela Dunn, state epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health, began by addressing the family of the victim.
“I understand the profound loss you must be feeling and I wish there was more we could have done to protect your loved one,” Dunn said. “Please know that there are hundreds of public health professionals across the state, working day and night to ensure as few other families in Utah experience this same situation.”
Dunn said the man’s exposure to COVID-19 was travel-related. She said he’d been seen in an “outpatient setting” prior to being hospitalized, where his specimens were collected for COVID-19 testing.
The Davis County Health Department is in the process of contacting those who came into close contact with the man, according to Dunn. Those who did have contact with him will be asked to quarantine themselves and be monitored by public health agencies.
Dunn said this first death only serves to underscore the seriousness of the pandemic.
“Yesterday, we did issue an update to our public health order regarding social distancing, those measures that we should all be taking right now,” Dunn said. “If you hadn’t been taking these recommendations seriously before now, it is time to start doing so.”
She encouraged Utahns to avoid being in groups of more than 10 people, and to maintain a distance of at least six feet within any groups they may encounter. Dunn said anyone with symptoms consistent with the virus need to self-isolate for at least seven days, and 72 hours after symptoms resolve.
“We are in this for the long haul, and we learn from epidemics in the past that we can expect more cases over the next several weeks, if not months,” Dunn said. “But we’ve also learned that we can flatten the curve by complying with the social distancing measures we have in place.”
Brian Hatch, director of the Davis County Health Department, said Sunday’s loss “underscores the importance of everyone following the guidance” offered by local and state leaders — namely, social distancing, washing hands often and staying home when sick.
Dunn said the state would not be releasing any more information about the factors involved in the man’s death.
“But the underlying conditions are similar to what is seen in other deaths related to COVID-19 that we know increase the likelihood of severity,” she said.
Of the 181 COVID-19 cases in the state, Dunn said about 10% have required hospitalization. To her knowledge, there hasn’t been an identified case of COVID-19 in a health-care worker in Utah.
As for the current state of the virus spread in Utah, Dunn said they were “definitely” seeing an increase in cases, and that the rise is not attributed to better testing or reporting numbers.
“We’re in that acceleration phase and we anticipate more cases before we start seeing a deceleration,” Dunn said.
Dunn said none of the state healthcare systems are being overtaxed at this point, and the goal is to maintain that status. She did say state officials had been hearing that urgent-care facilities and emergency rooms have been feeling “overwhelmed” by the “worried well” going in to be tested for the virus.
“So we’re really encouraging people if you don’t need that level of medical care, stay home and self isolate,” Dunn said.
“The key to being able to not overwhelm our healthcare systems is to make sure that those people who don’t need to be in the hospitals or healthcare systems aren’t there,” Dunn continued. “So that means if you have mild symptoms, and you can recover at home, do so.”
Isa Perry, public information officer for the Davis County Health Department, said that currently, south Davis County does seem to be bearing a higher burden in the number of COVID-19 cases compared to the northern parts of the county.
She echoes healthcare professionals’ calls for those experiencing symptoms to practice good self care at home, and seek help only when medically necessary.
“It’s a good question — if someone is treated earlier whether there would be a better outcome,” Perry said. “But I would say that in general, because there is no treatment for COVID-19, most people should treat their symptoms like they would treat a cold or other illness.”
In a news release, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said: “First and foremost, Jeanette and I want to express our deepest sympathies to the family and friends of this individual. The pain this family must be feeling right now puts into perspective the sacrifices we are all making to keep one another safe and healthy. We encourage everyone to do their part by practicing safe health practices, including social distancing.”