The governor of Utah said on Thursday that the coronavirus situation in his state is “serious” and could overwhelm the entire health care system.
“Utah is in a very serious situation. COVID-19 is most devastating when hospitals are overwhelmed and unable to provide good care to all who need it,” Governor Gary Herbert twittered. “We have seen that in Italy. We saw that in New York. We could see that in Utah if things don’t change.
Herbert, a Republican, has been Governor of Utah since 2009. He spoke to residents on Thursday during his weekly coronavirus update and gave a sobering picture of the rise in case numbers in Utah.
The Utah Department of Health reported a further 1,837 cases of coronavirus on October 29, bringing the total number of cases in the state to 110,640. The rolling 7-day average of cases is currently 1,578, an increase from last week when it was just over 1,200, said state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn. The 7-day positive rate is 18.1 percent, an increase from last week’s 15.5 percent, she said.
Herbert announced on October 13 that health authorities would begin using a transmission index model to assess how different districts are responding to the pandemic. Since then, daily case numbers in Utah have exceeded 1,000 per day, according to the Department of Health.
According to the KUTV, the counties are divided into different categories depending on whether they meet certain criteria, including case numbers, percentage of positivity rates and use of intensive care units. On October 13, only six counties were classified as “high transmission” and 15 as “moderate transmission”.
However, on Thursday, 23 of Utah’s 29 counties were classified as COVID-19 areas of high transmission, with two changing from “moderate” to “high” this week, said Rich Saunders, interim Executive Director of Utah’s Department of Health.
The Utah Department of Health issued additional restrictions on these areas on October 13. Anyone living in a high transmission county ward will be required to wear face coverings in public and social gatherings will be restricted to groups of 10 or fewer. Those living in counties with moderate and low transmission are “strongly recommended” to wear masks, and individual counties may enforce their own mandate regardless of designation.
“If you live in an area with high transmission power, you are required to wear a mask. The vast majority of the state is under a high transmitting area,” Saunders said.
Saunders also warned that Utahns experiencing medical emergencies unrelated to the COVID could be at risk because hospitals may not be able to treat them immediately.
“It’s not just about COVID,” Saunders said. “It’s about anyone who has a problem that gets them to a hospital. A heart attack patient, for example, who may not be able to get to hospital quickly enough for treatment. It’s about patients who have to wait hours for emergency surgery or emergency treatment”.
Herbert echoed this sentiment, saying that hospitals throughout the state are “getting too crowded to function well.
Dr. Mark Shah, an emergency physician from the Utah Hospital Association, assured residents that the state has contingency plans in place in case of surgery. These include hospitals sharing patients, nurses working overtime and opening additional facilities to cope with patient overcrowding, he said.
“Hospital capacity is about supply and demand. Our supply of beds, drugs and staff is based on what is normal,” Shah said. “When demand exceeds normal care, we resort to contingency plans”.
Yet health care is finite, and these contingency plans may “not be sufficient” to meet patient demand if the system is overburdened, the doctor warned. In an effort to avoid this, Shah urged the Utahns to stop arguing about healthcare, mask wearing and the pandemic and unite instead, the KUTV reported.
Greg Bell, president of the Utah Hospital Association, said it remains uncertain if or when Utah’s hospital network will become so congested that doctors will have to start deciding which patients can be treated immediately.
Bell explained that he “has not yet raised the red flag,” but