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WATCH: Utah officials urge residents to do their part as COVID-19 cases climb

Gov. Gary Herbert addressed the public remotely on Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020. Photo: KSL NewsRadio via Facebook Live

SALT LAKE CITY — Ten more Utahns have died as COVID-19 cases continue to climb in Utah. Thursday, the state reported an additional 1,837 cases of the virus and a seven day rolling average of percent positive test results of 18.1%. 

Gov. Gary Herbert, Utah Department of Health Epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn, and other state government and health leaders warned state residents to do their part to keep coronavirus from spreading over concern that hospitals could quickly become overwhelmed.

Speaking directly to Utah residents, Herbert expressed his frustration with the continuing pandemic. 

“We know the pandemic is very disruptive in our lives. It’s getting old,” he said.

But he added the hospitals are struggling.

“They can’t keep up,” Herbert said. 

Encouraging Utah residents to wear masks and continue social distancing as COVID-19 cases climb, Herbert sounded stern. 

“This is no longer a polite request,” he said of masks. “It is a requirement.” 

COVID-19 cases climb in Utah 

The ten additional deaths reported on Thursday represent Utahns who lived in every corner of the state. They included: 

  • One Beaver County woman between the ages of 65 and 84 who was not hospitalized at the time of her death 
  • One Emery County man between the ages of 65 and 84 who was not hospitalized at the time of his death 
  • One Juab County man between the ages of 65 and 84 who was hospitalized at the time of his death 
  • One Piute County woman between the ages of 65 and 84 who was hospitalized at the time of her death 
  • One Salt Lake County man between the ages of 25 and 44 who was hospitalized at the time of his death 
  • Two Salt Lake County men between the ages of 45 and 64, both hospitalized at the time of their deaths 
  • One Salt Lake County man between the ages of 65 and 84 who resided in a long-term care facility 
  • One Utah County woman over the age of 85 who resided in a long-term care facility 
  • One Washington County man over the age of 85 who was not hospitalized at the time of his death

The Utah Department of Health reported 1,837 Utahns tested positive for COVID-19 Thursday, for a total of 110,640 since the beginning of the pandemic. 

State officials say Utah hospitals currently house 317 Utahns for COVID-19 treatment. According to coronavirus.utah.gov, 123 of those patients require intensive care unit treatment. 

A warning from hospital leaders 

Dr. Mark Shah, an emergency room physician, said patients who need care for other ailments beyond COVID-19 should understand what overwhelming the health care system would mean. 

For COVID-19 alone, he stressed the virus is not just the cold or the flu. 

“About 5% of patients will likely be hospitalized. And 20% to 30% go on to require intensive care,” Shah said.

Shah said Utah has already begun asking other states for help and moving patients around to relieve stress on the hospitals bearing the brunt. 

“We are diverting patients away from hospitals that are stressed,” Shah said. “These contingency efforts may fall short.” 

The challenge, he pointed out, goes beyond available beds: staffing affects how many patients a facility can treat. COVID-19 patients and those needing attention for other conditions may not get the care they need simply because the hospital doesn’t have enough staff. 

“I understand the negative impact this can have on patients and providers,” Shah said. 

An impossible choice

Crisis standards of care could mean facilities must choose which patients receive treatment. 

“In times of scarcity we need to do the greatest good for the greatest number,” Shah said, a decision he noted includes the probability of survival. “We cannot continue to argue about masking. We cannot continue to argue about whether this pandemic is real or made-up.” 

“This is about heart attack patients who might not be able to get into a hospital quickly enough to get treatment. This is about patients waiting hours and hours for emergency care or surgery,” said Rich Saunders, the director of the Utah Department of Health. “Our hospitals are obviously still caring for patients. But they are stretched very thin, and we’ve got to join together to alleviate this problem.”

Herbert said he understood Utah’s mortality rate remains low, but that should not mean Utahns ease up in proper precautions. The national mortality rate remains about five times higher than Utah’s; however, he said long-term ramifications from the virus also pose concerns. 

“It’s not just mortality we should be concerned about,” Herbert said, talking about his 13-year-old grandchild who, weeks later, still does not have a sense of taste. 

“The information we have heard today is sobering. We have been transparent and forthright from the beginning. We have been telling the public since the beginning of the pandemic that we could overwhelm our hospitals,” Herbert said. “We are far too close.”

This story is developing and will be updated.