The Bear River Health Department reported 31 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday. The department states its confirmed counts may continue to rise at an increased pace as it prepares “targeted COVID-19 testing clinics” for critical industry and infrastructure workers.
All of Friday’s new cases are in Cache County.
“We don’t like to see those kind of case counts, obviously, but it’s good to know that we don’t have anyone currently hospitalized,” BRHD Spokesperson Josh Greer said Thursday. “We’re still working with a manageable caseload where we can still do our contact tracing, we can still get these people isolated so they’re not out presenting a further risk to the community.”
The latest report means about 70 new cases have been confirmed in the health district since last Friday, when the cumulative count stood at 99. BRHD now counts 168 cases.
The department is still in the early stages of investigating the infections, Greer said Thursday.
“We’ve been busy,” Greer said. “That’s a lot of people to contact to try to figure out who they’ve been in contact with, where they may have been infected.”
All but one of the new cases reported Thursday and Friday are in individuals aged 18-60.
BRHD has declined to comment directly on rumors of infections at factories in the area, but the department released a statement Friday telling residents to expect to see testing clinics at such locations in an effort to identify and remove infected workers from the workplace to safely “keep these critical industries operating.”
“Over the next few days there will be targeted COVID-19 testing clinics at some of these critical industries,” the BRHD statement reads. “As large numbers of individuals are tested, we anticipate an increase in positive cases.”
The district’s 168 confirmed cumulative cases of COVID-19 include 142 in Cache and 26 in Box Elder. Rich, the only other county in the health district, is still reporting zero cases. Just north of the health district, Franklin County reported its first confirmed case of the virus Thursday afternoon.
BRHD considers 78 of its COVID-19 cases recovered. A total of 10 people have been hospitalized in the district due to the virus, but there are zero currently hospitalized, according to department statistics.
Two deaths due to the disease have been reported in the district, but both individuals contracted the virus and died outside the state and are counted in BRHD’s totals because they listed their permanent residences here.
State and local officials have stated that new cases are expected as the state has relaxed social distancing precautions.
“As the state has started to loosen restrictions we anticipated seeing new cases,” stated state epidemiologist Angela Dunn on Friday. “But there are other important measures to consider as well. Namely the proxy transmission rate, which we base on new hospitalizations, and ICU utilization. The statewide transmission rate stands at 1.1 today, and ICU utilization remains well below our threshold level.”
National headlines about the CDC including the results of antibody tests along with diagnostic test results have caused some confusion about local numbers, but Greer said antibody test results are not included in BRHD’s case counts. Only the diagnostic tests are counted in BRHD’s numbers.
“When somebody gets a positive antibody test, they are then strongly encouraged to get one of the nasal, pharyngeal swabs to see if they by chance have an active infection or not,” Greer said. “And if they went ahead and got that swab and that swab came back positive, then yes, it would be counted.”
As the name suggests, antibody tests are designed to detect antibodies created by the immune system to fight off COVID-19. Ideally, an antibody test would indicate that a person had COVID-19 at some point in the past, but the CDC now warns that the tests may be wrong up to half of the time. In addition, scientists still don’t know what kind of immunity to COVID-19 antibodies may provide. With some viruses, such as smallpox and polio, antibodies may provide immunity for years or even a lifetime, making herd immunity and vaccinations very effective. That long-term immunity isn’t something the body can provide for all viruses, however. How easy it is to become reinfected with COVID-19 will likely have a large impact on how officials combat the virus in the long run.
One precaution local health officials have taken is setting up dorms at Utah State University for people to isolate themselves and avoid infecting large households. Greer said only a handful of people have used this option so far, to his knowledge. Individuals are given the option to isolate in the dorms if the BRHD’s epidemiology team determines it’s needed.
It’s a case-by-case scenario,” Greer said. “Our epi team will evaluate their home situation and all of that to determine whether they can safely isolate at home or whether maybe they need someplace else to go.”
The state overall saw 343 new cases Friday, bringing the cumulative total to nearly 9,300 confirmed positives. Nearly 206,000 tests have been reported in the state. About 100 people are currently hospitalized, and more than 5,800 people are considered recovered by the state health department. One hundred seven deaths have been attributed to the virus in the state.