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Hospitals Stretched Thin As Utah Officials Announce More Record-Breaking COVID Numbers

A photo of Gov. Gary Herbert, Dr. Angela Dunn, and Dr. Eddie Stenehjem wearing masks.
Laura Seitz
Deseret News
Dr. Eddie Stenehjem, an infectious disease expert with Intermountain Health Care, joined Gov. Gary Herbert and State Epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn as health officials announced a new record of daily COVID-19 cases. Stenehjem said he wished he had good news about the pandemic in Utah, but there isn’t any. “For the first time as a physician, I’m scared to see what’s to come,” Stenehjem said. “I’m scared about the next few months that we will endure here in Utah, unless something changes.”

Utah set a new single day COVID-19 case record Thursday, as the state’s Department of Health reported 1,543 new cases — 42 more than the previous record of 1,501 set on Oct. 8.

Last week, the state announced its new coronavirus tracking system, which uses data like case rates and ICU capacity, to determine if a county is at high, moderate or low risk for transmission of the virus.

Health officials initially placed six counties in the high level, but announced Thursday that 16 counties increased their transmission level in the past week. Twenty-one counties are now in the high level. For those, masks are required and social gatherings are limited to 10 people or fewer.

Three counties are in the moderate level where masks are required until Oct. 29. And five counties are in the low level where masks are strongly recommended.

During Thursday’s press conference, state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn expressed frustration while talking about the number of new daily cases and the stress on Utah’s public health system.

“I don’t know what to do anymore,” Dunn said. “We’re prioritizing and focusing on individuals taking responsibility to slow the spread of COVID-19, and we’re heading into the colder months, where people are going to be inside, having holiday get-togethers. It’s now flu and cold season. I’m really not trying to scare anyone, I’m just trying to inform you of what’s going on.”

Dr. Eddie Stenehjem, an infectious disease expert with Intermountain Health Care, said he’s scared about how the surge in cases will impact people’s access to care at hospitals.

“At this point, we have the resources to care for the complex COVID and non-COVID patients across the state,” Stenehjem said. “That said, our health care system is being stretched thin, and soon there will be a time when we may not be able to provide care for all those who need it.”

Asked if there were any other policies to slow the spread of cases, Gov. Gary Herbert said he believes the new transmission index system will work — but he also said it doesn’t matter how much the government demands from people.

“People break the speed limit all the time, and we have accidents,” Herbert said. “There’s a lot of bad behavior out there, so I don’t know if there’s anything that can guarantee [compliance]. At the end of the day, are all of us willing to do our part by following proper protocols to minimize risk to ourselves and our loved ones and the community at large?”

Dunn said it will take a couple of weeks of data gathering to see if the new transmission index system and restrictions have any impact on cases.

Emily Means is a government and politics reporter at KUER.
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