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Health, Science & Environment

"Our People Are Really Tired" — Hospital Official Pleads For Utahns To Wear Masks As ICUs Fill Up

Gov Herbert Avail Angela Dunn Emily Spivak
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
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Deseret News
Dr. Emily Spivak, University Of Utah Health Division of Infectious Diseases associate professor of medicine, and Dr. Angela Dunn, state epidemiologist, listen as Gov. Gary Herbert speaks during a COVID-19 press conference at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020.

Utah health officials announced 1,501 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday, setting a new record for the state. The seven-day average of new daily cases is 1,114, up more than 100 from the average this time last week and also a record.

Hospitalizations are also surging as 237 Utahns are currently hospitalized for COVID-19, marking another new high since the start of the pandemic. Today also marked a record-high number of cases for people over the age of 65.

University of Utah infectious disease physician Dr. Emily Spivak said the university hospital’s intensive care unit is now 95% full. She made an emotional plea during a press conference Thursday for Utahns to wear masks, while describing the strain that the spike has put on healthcare workers.

“People are really tired,” Spivak said through tears. “They’re suffering, and they don’t want to see another person die alone of a preventable infection.”

Spivak said she couldn’t believe that mask-wearing has become a debate when it has been proven to limit the spread of COVID-19.

“If we choose [not to wear masks], we can all plan on remaining in this current state of uncertainty,” Spivak said, “experiencing lockdowns, virtual schools, cancelled sporting events, holidays without loved ones, and continued economic and personal financial impacts, and more and more people’s lives devastated by COVID-19.”

State epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn said health officials have heard from hospitals across the state that they are getting close to filling up their ICUs, much like the university’s hospital is. Across the state, 73% of people receiving intensive care are COVID-19 patients, according to the state’s coronavirus dashboard.

Dunn said hospitals throughout the state are working on contingency plans if their ICUs do fill up. Some options include transferring patients to hospitals that have space, turning regular hospital beds into intensive care beds, and opening an overflow facility for non-intensive care patients. The state opened an overflow facility during the spring, but closed it after it became clear they didn’t need it.

“We are trending in that direction, unfortunately,” Dunn said. “So what we really need is to actually decrease our case counts now and urgently so that we don't have to go into that crisis standards of care mode where ultimately patients might not get the type of care they actually need for their disease.”

Gov. Gary Herbert said he will meet with the state’s Unified Command this week and legislative leadership next week to discuss potential further public health restrictions to curb the spike.

“I'm reluctant to have a statewide mask mandate,” Herbert said. “We're doing some studies on mask mandates and we're finding some interesting data points, as far as — does it help or hurt, particularly when it comes to the economy? … We're going to keep doing what works and change what's not working. But it's unclear.”

When the current spike began, it was centered in Utah County, which accounted for 40% of the state’s new cases three weeks ago. Dunn said Thursday that the county now accounts for 30% of the state’s new cases.

“Elected officials, universities, businesses, public health schools and most importantly, the residents of Utah County made the decision to change their behavior, whether that's wearing face masks when they're out practicing physical distancing and staying home when they're ill,” Dunn said. “They reignited their commitment to stop unnecessary illness and death. And this has worked.”

Utah is still in the White House’s “red zone” for new coronavirus cases, with at least 100 new cases per 100,000 residents, according to White House documents obtained from the Center for Public Integrity. The state ranks fifth for new cases per-capita, behind North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and Montana.

The Cache County School District also reported a “significant uptick” in COVID-19 cases this week, the Cache Valley Daily reports.

The district now has 20 active cases among students and staff, seven of which are at Sky View High School, according to the District’s website.

“These individuals have been instructed to isolate at home according to state and local health department directives,” the District said in a statement. “Students and staff who are determined to have come in close contact with these individuals will be notified and asked to quarantine.”

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