SALT LAKE CITY — The same day Utah reported its largest growth in COVID-19 cases in a single day, Gov. Gary Herbert announced most of Utah will remain in its low-risk or yellow phase in the pandemic for at least another week.
On Friday, 439 new confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus were reported as 4,690 people received new tests.
Before Friday, the biggest one-day increase was reported on May 29 with 343 new COVID-19 cases. Friday’s total exceeds that record day by 96 cases.
The state’s coronavirus cases since the outbreak began now total 11,252.
In Utah, 20 more people required hospitalization, bringing the current number of those in hospitals with the disease to 114.
Three more Utahns died with COVID-19, it was also reported Friday. Two were Salt Lake County men between the ages of 60 and 85 who were hospitalized when they died, and the third was a Salt Lake County woman older than 85 who was a long-term care resident, according to the Utah Department of Health.
“Today’s case counts represent yet another significant increase in the spread of COVID-19 in our communities,” Dr. Angela Dunn, epidemiologist with the state health department, said in a statement.
Northern Utah outbreak
One-third of the new cases have been confirmed in the Bear River Health District, which encompasses Cache, Box Elder and Rich counties. The area’s case count rose from 156 on May 29 to 491 on Friday.
Many of them are “tied to an ongoing outbreak we have been investigating at a local meat processing facility. Many of the workers at this facility match the demographics of who we know are at the highest risk for infection. I expect to see additional cases of COVID-19 identified as part of this outbreak, both at the worksite and in the community,” Dunn said.
The name of the meat processing facility has not been released.
“It’s more important than ever that employers provide safe working environments for their employees, and have policies in place that not only allow, but encourage employees to stay away from the workplace when they are sick. More information about this outbreak, and what public health is doing to contain it, will be provided by the Bear River Health Department,” Dunn said.
“For the rest of us, now is not the time to let your guard down. Social distancing is more important than ever, yet people seem to be taking it less seriously than ever. If you’re sick, stay home. If you’re moving about in public, wear a mask. It is up to all of us as individuals to stop the spread of COVID-19 in Utah,” she added.
In explaining why he declined to implement a commission’s recommendation to move the state to a green level or the “new normal” level, Herbert said: “Common sense requires keeping our current health risk guidance in place. We all want to return to more normal patterns of life as soon as possible, but we also do not want to take a step back in our progress against this disease and our reactivation of the economy.”
The governor continued, “A marked increase in disease incidence and in hospitalizations due to COVID-19 give us pause. We will continue to analyze data trends with an eye toward balancing overall health risks and protecting high-risk populations.”
As before, Salt Lake City as well as Bluff and Mexican Hat in San Juan County will remain in the orange or moderate risk phase.
But some rural counties could move to the “new normal” or green phase by the end of the month, according to state officials.
On Wednesday, after the Public Health and Economic Emergency Commission recommended the state move into a “smart green” risk phase in Utah’s color-coded plan, the Utah Department of Health said a significant spike in cases over the past week should preclude any further loosening of restrictions.
Of the 13 health districts in Utah, nine experienced an increase of 15% or more cases in the last week, Dunn said Wednesday.
On Friday, Dunn offered a list of tips to prevent the spread of COVID-19 for residents who plan to participate in ongoing protests against police brutality and the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Protesters should wear face coverings and eye protection, use hand sanitizer, stay hydrated, and stay in small groups maintaining 6 feet from other groups. They should also refrain from yelling, and instead use signs and noisemakers. She also urged people to stay home if ill.
“Utah’s yellow phase guidance emphasizes taking common sense precautions so that we can safely resume regular social and economic pursuits. Under yellow risk status there are no economic activities that are categorically prohibited if commonsense precautions are in place,” Herbert said.
He urged Utahns to continue practicing social distancing and “good hygiene,” and to wear face coverings.
“I believe that wearing masks has helped to reduce the asymptomatic spread of the virus among state officials even as we have been working long hours together in close quarters,” Herbert said.