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PM News Brief: Wildfire Improvement, Annual Homeless Report & Heatwave Killing Trees

A photo of firefighters walking through nature with equipment.
Utah Fire Info Twitter
Last week there were only 13 human-caused fires in Utah. That’s fewer than the previous 10 years leading up to the Pioneer Day holiday. This story and more in Wednesday evening's news brief.

Wednesday evening, July 28, 2021

State

Utah Healthcare Systems Feeling The Crunch Of New Delta Variant

COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Utah are higher now than they were a year ago even though vaccines are widely available. The Delta variant is largely to blame, according to Utah Department of Health spokesperson Charla Haley. Increased cases due to the Delta variant mean more hospitalizations as well. Intensive care units around the state are on average more than 80% full. Emily Spivak, an infectious disease doctor at the University of Utah, said the university's hospital shut down a COVID unit earlier this year. Now, it’s unclear if they have the resources to open it again. Read the full story. — Sonja Hutson

Health Officials Report 843 New COVID-19 Cases

Utah health officials reported 843 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday. This marked the third time in the past week, officials announced more than 800 cases in a single day. The state’s positivity rate remains steady at just above 10%. A month ago, it was about 6%. So far, about 46% of all Utahns have been fully vaccinated. Six more people have died from the virus. Four of them were at least 65 years old. — Ross Terrell

Utah Makes Serious Improvement In Human-Caused Fires

Last week there were only 13 human-caused fires in Utah. That’s fewer than the previous 10 years leading up to the Pioneer Day holiday. In total there were 84 starts last week and all but two of them were fully suppressed within the first day, according to fire officials. So far this year, 732 fires have burned over 60,000 acres across the state. Though recent storms have helped with wildfire suppression, they haven’t done much to alleviate the state’s drought. All of the state is in extreme or exceptional drought. Last year at this time, around 1% of the state was in the extreme category, with nowhere in exceptional drought. Statewide, reservoirs are on average, a little above half way full. The majority of Utah’s 42 bodies of water are currently below that. — Lexi Peery, St. George

Annual Homeless Report Reveals Mixed Bag Of Utah’s Situation

Since 2017, the number of people in Utah experiencing homelessness for the first time dropped by nearly 22%. That data was released Wednesday as part of the state’s Office of Homeless Services annual report. The number of people who experienced recurring homelessness also dropped during that time. However, there was an increase in the average amount of time people spent in emergency shelters. In 2019 people were spending about 55 days in shelters. That jumped to 66 days last year. Officials said that’s a sign there’s a need for more accessible affordable housing. — Tess Roundy

Region

Heatwave Causing High-Elevation Trees To Die Out

More trees in Colorado’s high-elevation forests are dying because of extreme summer heat. That’s according to a study published earlier this year in the Journal of Ecology. Researchers say the study suggests that forests may eventually function less as carbon sinks than they do now. It also found that hotter and drier conditions are making it difficult for new trees to grow in subalpine forests in Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico. — Maggie Mullen, Mountain West News Bureau