SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said he is feeling “frustrated” with the state’s rising coronavirus numbers as new cases and hospitalizations continued a streak of new record highs on Thursday.
State health experts are projecting that the numbers will continue to rise dramatically and overwhelm the state’s hospitals if people don’t modify their behavior, Herbert said. He said he’s concerned that people are feeling fatigued from the pandemic and continued his months-long plea for Utah residents to follow masking and social distancing requirements.
“I worry that as we announce the numbers that we just kind of glaze our eyes over, become numb with what’s taking place,” Herbert said at his weekly COVID-19 news briefing.
The state recorded 2,807 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus, which brought the seven-day average of new daily cases to 1,943. In the past week, Utah’s positivity average has increased from 18.1% to 19.5%, according to state data. Hospitalizations also rose with a record 389 COVID-19 patients.
State epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn has said that such a high positivity rate indicates the numbers of infection are far higher.
The governor said he met with Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, and Dr. Robert Redfield, the CDC’s director, this weekend. They said a vaccine could be available for frontline workers and vulnerable individuals within the next one to two months. Herbert said the vaccine could be generally disseminated in Utah as early as March.
Twenty two of the state’s 29 counties are still in the state’s high transmission category, which mandates mask wearing and limiting social gatherings to 10 people or fewer. The virus is largely spreading through smaller casual gatherings at people’s homes, making it difficult to enforce the state’s recent requirements, Herbert said.
The governor did not release any new virus-related measures for slowing the spread Thursday. But he said he plans to make an announcement early next week.
Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, who won the governor’s race this week, said he is prepared to continue the fight against COVID-19 when he succeeds Herbert in January. He said he hopes to focus on ramping up testing, adding more contact tracers and implementing vaccine distribution.
There have been over 124,000 reported virus cases in Utah and 632 people have died, according to state data.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
Sophia Eppolito is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.
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