Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Health, Science & Environment

Coronavirus And Utah: What You Need To Know

Photo of a hand on a podium with a mask.
Associated Press

Total Cases: 98,006 | Total Hospitalizations: 4,807 | Current Hospitalizations: 314 | Deaths: 557

Utah reported on Wednesday 1,363 new cases of COVID-19. For the past week, the positivity rate is 15.1% — well above the 5% that the Department of Health says indicates a flattening of the curve in the state.

The seven-day average for daily cases is 1,283. Currently, a record 314 people are hospitalized for COVID-19, up from 258 a week ago. Of those people, 111 are in the ICU for treatment, which is also a record and accounts for about 73% of all ICU beds statewide.

The state reported six more people have died from the disease. So far, 993,995 people have been tested.

According to Johns Hopkins University, there have been 8,300,451 cases and 221,550 deaths in the United States.

Utah Cases By Location


A Snapshot Of The Latest COVID News In Utah

  • On Oct. 19, Intermountain Dixie Regional Medical Center in St. George opened a surge ICU, due to the rising number of COVID-19 patients requiring intensive care. In a statement, IHC said healthcare resources across the state, “continue to be stretched” because of the increase in cases. Officials also said “it's important to remember that we continue to care for many non-COVID patients who require high levels of ICU care for a variety of conditions, as well.”
  • Cases in Salt Lake County are the highest in the state with a seven-day average of 533 cases. That’s up from last week, when the seven-day average was 489 cases. The county reported 500 new cases on Sunday.
  • Gov. Gary Herbert said in a statement Oct. 16 the spike in cases in recent weeks is unsustainable. He warned if the state doesn’t get it under control and based on Friday’s data, four more counties will automatically be moved to the high transmission level next week — which has tighter restrictions and a mask requirement. Herbert did not say which counties are potentially facing tighter restrictions.
  • Herbert and state officials unveiled a new system on Oct. 13 to determine restriction levels for counties. Instead of color codes, counties will be placed in high, moderate or low transmission levels. It went into effect Oct. 15, and six counties started in the high level, 15 in the moderate and eight in the low.
  • Utah saw its highest number of new COVID-19 cases in a single day Oct. 8 as health officials reported 1,501. A week later on Oct. 15, Utah saw its second highest number in a single day with 1,498.

COVID-19 In Schools

The Utah Department of Health reported Wednesday there have been 4,966 cases in schools since classes resumed. Of those cases, 3,677 are among students, and about 30% of total cases were reported in the past two weeks.

As of Oct. 20, the Alpine School District in Utah County has the most total cases in the state with 869 among its more than 80,500 students. Only about 17% of those cases are considered active.

Davis School District in Salt Lake County leads the state with the most active cases with 277 cases among its nearly 73,000 students.

The state’s recent surge in coronavirus cases has largely been attributed to college-aged students in Utah County. Brigham Young University, which opted to bring students back in-person, is seeing cases rise quickly. As of Oct. 19, the school had 122 active cases and has had a total of 1,903 cases, accounting for 4.4% of the campus community.

As of Oct. 20, Utah Valley University had 21 active self-reported cases among students and two among faculty and staff. Since Aug. 24, the university has seen 452 total cases.

The University of Utah saw early outbreaks in some dorms, after students returned to campus in August. The campus is currently in the orange, moderate risk level, allowing only some in-person classes and requiring face coverings to be worn at all times in public spaces. Since the start of the fall semester to Oct. 20, the campus has seen 832 self-reported cases.

Utah State University reported 266 active cases of COVID-19 as of Oct. 21, though most of the cases are attributed to students living off-campus. Since the start of the fall semester, USU has seen 743 cases.

Long-Term Care Facilities

As of Oct. 21, 613 of Utah’s long-term care facilities, which include nursing homes and assisted living locations, have had confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Of people living in those facilities, 231 have died and 1,785 residents have tested positive for the virus. In case of an outbreak at a facility, Utah’s epidemiologist said the state can use its mobile strike teams to assist. Ten locations have at least five active cases.

One facility across the state is also serving as a COVID-19 unit, meaning they accept patients from hospitals or other locations and provide them with care in a separate part of the building. Another facility in Salt Lake City is treating COVID-19 patients only.

People over the age of 65 and those with underlying health conditions are considered to be at high risk of dying from COVID-19.

Navajo Nation And Minority Communities Among Hardest Hit

although case growth there has leveled off in recent weeks. On Oct. 19 the Utah Department of Health reported two new cases there for a total of 508.

On the Uintah and Ouray Reservation, state health officials report a total of 26 cases as of Oct. 20.

Data from the Utah Department of Health show people of color make up nearly 25% of the state’s population but more than half of its coronavirus cases.

The Latinx community alone accounts for about 30% of all cases in the state, but only 14% of Utah’s population. As of Oct. 18, there have been nearly 28,000 cases among Utah’s Hispanic/Latinx residents. Community leaders have said the number of cases are in large part due to people having jobs where they can’t work from home or properly socially distance.

To better address the needs of and communicate with the Latinx community, state officials are holding press briefings in Spanish as of June 25.

American Indian, Alaskan and Hawaiian Natives, and Pacific Islanders in Utah continue to die from COVID-19 at well over twice the per-capita rate of any other demographic.

Read more: KUER's ongoing coverage of the coronavirus

COVID-19 And Utah: FAQ

  • What are the levels of the transmission index?
  • When are masks required?
  • How are those levels determined?
  • What public gatherings are allowed in each level?
  • Under what criteria do schools move online?
  • What’s the impact on employment in Utah?
  • How are worship services being affected?
  • How is this affecting national parks and college sports?

Transmission Index Levels

There are three transmission levels counties can be placed in: high, moderate or low. Each level comes with a certain set of restrictions, like mask requirements, how large public gatherings can be and how businesses, such as bars and restaurants, can operate.

“It’s really time for a new game plan,” Herbert said when the plan was announced. “This guidance system is based on a calculated amount of infection and transmission that happens in our communities and provides Utahns with concrete actions to help stem that spread.”

Mask Requirements

For counties with high level transmission, masks are required in public indoor settings, like grocery stores and restaurants and outdoors where social distancing isn’t feasible.

High Level: Cache, Garfield, Juab, Salt Lake, Utah, Wasatch

For counties in the moderate transmission level, masks must be worn until Oct. 29 as directed by state public health officials. After the 29th, masks are strongly recommended but the requirement is at the discretion of county health officials.

Moderate Level: Box Elder, Carbon, Davis, Grand, Iron, Millard, Morgan, San Juan, Sanpete, Sevier, Summit, Tooele, Uintah, Washington, Weber

Meanwhile, for the low transmission level counties, masks are just strongly recommended.

Low Level: Beaver, Daggett, Duchesne, Emery, Kane, Piute, Rich, Wayne

Face coverings are still required in all state facilities, including institutions of higher education and state run liquor stores. They must also be worn by all students, faculty and staff in K-12 school buildings and on school busses.

Determining The Transmission Level

Each county’s level is based on three metrics: its seven-day average positivity rate, the two week case rate per 100,000 people and statewide ICU utilization. Levels are determined if a county meets just two of the three metric levels.

“What's really encouraging here is that we are using data, which is an objective measure, to drive where counties are,” state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn said.

Transmission levels will be reviewed weekly with updates announced every Thursday. In order for a county to move from a higher to a lower level, they must meet the requirements for at least two weeks. However, counties can move to tighter restrictions weekly.

Public And Social Gatherings

Health officials pointed to the need to control the spread of the virus at “casual social gatherings.” Those are everyday situations where people are spending time with family and friends in places like their homes or at parks.

“The virus knows no boundaries,” Rich Saunders, interim executive director of the Utah Department of Health said. “Because we let down our guard in these settings, it's a popular point of viral spread. The virus doesn't care how much we love to be around each other and how much fun we want to have.”

Under the high transmission guidelines, those gatherings will be limited to 10 or fewer people. For locations in the moderate phase, they will be limited to 10 or fewer until Oct. 29 and then grow to 25. Under the low level people may gather in groups of 50 or less. For both the moderate and low phase, larger groups are allowed only if everyone wears a mask.

For public gatherings like at restaurants and bars, social distancing between groups is required in the high level, “strongly recommended” in the moderate level and “strongly encouraged” in the low level.

At events like weddings, movie theaters or live entertainment, social distancing is required between household groups but exceptions can be made in the high or moderate level. Masks are also required but performers are excluded.

Online Schooling

State epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn said if three cases are linked to a K-12 classroom, the health department recommends the class go online for two weeks. And if 15 people in a school or 10% of the school’s population catch the virus — whichever is lower — the entire school should go online for two weeks.

If a student tests positive for COVID-19, their entire household is required to quarantine for 14 days, and that student and their school-aged siblings would not be allowed to attend in person classes during that period.

Teachers and staff who test positive for COVID-19 would be required to quarantine at home until they have been fever-free for 24 hours and it has been 10 days since their symptoms began.

COVID-19 And Unemployment

For the week of Oct. 4 - Oct. 10, 2,744 new Utahns filed for traditional benefits, according to the Department of Workforce Services. That’s slightly up compared to the week before. More than 41,000 people in Utah received payments during that time.

An additional 713 people filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, the fund set up for gig and non-traditional workers.

More than 3,600 Utahns stopped filing for benefits.

Source: Utah Department of Workforce Services

How Are Worship Services Affected?

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced on Oct. 12 new guidelines for weekly worship and the resumption of some services.

Top Church leadership released a letter in early September that directed Utah area leaders to create a plan for in-person or virtually based on local conditions.

The letter from the Church’s First Presidency also said that stakes could proceed with November conferences either virtually or “with careful social distancing.”

In May, the Church also asked all its members in Utah to wear a face mask while in public to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

Select temples in the United States, Canada, Europe and Asia have reopened for marriage ceremonies. The majority of temples will move into Phase Two of the Church’s reopening plan on Oct. 19. That means people will be able to perform all living ordinances by appointment.

The Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, which covers the state of Utah, announced parishes may resume public masses as long as they follow recommended health guidelines.

Outdoor Recreation And Collegiate Sports

The Pac-12 and Mountain West voted to bring back fall sports with truncated football seasons. That means the University of Utah will start play in November and Utah State will start play in late October. The West Coast Conference and Big Sky have postponed their fall sports season. That affects Weber State and Southern Utah University.

Bryce Canyon National Park reopened May 6 with limited access and resources. 

Capitol Reef National Park opened its visitors centers, Gifford House Museum and the Fruita Campgroun. Visitors centers restrooms remain closed while being upgraded.

Cedar Breaks National Monument’s scenic road has also opened for the summer season.

Zion National Park and Dinosaur National Monument have resumed limited operations. Zion is open but visitors need to reserve a shuttle ticket a day in advance to go up the main canyon. Most trails are open but some facilities are still closed.

All monument roads and trails at Dinosaur are open. Campgrounds will begin closing Oct. 19 for the season. The Quarry Visitor Center and Exhibit Hall are open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Timed tickets to the Quarry Exhibit must be reserved online. The Canyon Visitor Center on the Colorado side is now closed for the season.

Arches and Canyonlands National Parks have resumed roads, trails and restroom access.

Many of Utah’s ski resorts are selling season passes for this winter, but with discount or refund plans available.

Alterra Mountain Company, which owns Deer Valley and Solitude Mountain ski areas, said in an effort to control the number of skiers, they're eliminating window sales and limiting the number of tickets sold in advance.

Season pass holders will get priority for riding lifts and slopes. Operators also plan to enforce policies such as mandatory face coverings, social distancing and crowd management on and off the mountain.

Riders can expect many touchless upgrades, from parking kiosks to faucets and sanitizing stations, plus additional bathrooms to reduce lines, grab-n-go food and reduced seating inside. Solitude hopes to open Nov. 20.

Updated: October 21, 2020 at 1:43 PM MDT
Corrected: September 24, 2020 at 4:50 PM MDT
Previous versions of this story misstated what the seven-day average rate of increase meant for Utahns’ efforts in flattening the curve.
KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.