The novel coronavirus continues to spread locally, with the Bear River Health District setting new records for case counts over the weekend.
BRHD recorded 119 new laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Halloween, the largest single-day increase outside of testing clinics tied to an outbreak at a meatpacking plant in Hyrum in June. On Sunday and Monday, however, the district reported only 48 and 40 new cases, respectively, well below the average of daily new cases across October.
While epidemiologists have tied past bumps to holiday gatherings, a lag in reporting times means the COVID-19 statistics that were reported over the weekend cannot be tied to Halloween.
There are many reasons for fluctuations in new cases reported from day-to-day, according to Bear River Health Department Executive Director Lloyd Berentzen.
“Cases of Covid-19 are reported as they are batch entered into the state database by labs and various testing agencies and don’t evenly reflect the new cases each day,” Berentzen wrote in a statement on the department’s website. “For this reason, we look closer at our 7-day average to determine the severity of the spike we are currently experiencing.”
The 7-day average of new cases is currently hovering near its high-water mark: Monday and the six days prior averaged about 78 cases per day. The 7-day average bottomed out near the end of summertime and began climbing steadily a few weeks after schools resumed in-person classes in the fall.
“On September 1, our 7-day average of cases for the prior week was just over 11 new cases per day,” Berentzen states. “On October 20, our 7-day average was 67 new cases per day. We also saw a significant increase in hospitalizations. This increase is likely to continue with the arrival of colder weather and more time being spent indoors.”
There are about 1,500 estimated active cases in the three-county health district, which includes Cache, Box Elder and Rich counties. About 75% of estimated active cases are in Cache County, and all but two of the rest are in Box Elder.
BRHD has recorded relatively few deaths throughout the pandemic, though that number is rising in the wake of the case increases of the past several weeks. In epidemiology, deaths are one of the “lagging indicators,” meaning that while new cases may be reported fairly quickly after a disease starts spreading more quickly, deaths may take much longer to register.
It took more than a month for COVID deaths to rise after the meatpacking testing clinics contributed to a major spike in new COVID cases: There had been just two deaths among people listing addresses within Cache County as permanent residences before July 14.
Deaths steadily increased from then until Aug. 19, when a total of six deaths were reported in the county. The count remained at six as active cases decreased over the summer. Cases began to rise rapidly in the second week of September, however, and about a month later, deaths began increasing again as well. From Oct. 10 to Nov. 1, deaths in Cache County rose from six to 11, or one new death attributed to COVID-19 every four and a half days.
Utah as a whole has, until now, experienced relatively few deaths due to the pandemic, according to Gov. Gary Herbert.
“While it is true that Utah’s COVID-19 mortality rate is substantially lower than the national rate, we must not become numb to what these numbers mean for our communities — for those infected, for everyone who loves them,” Herbert wrote Friday. “Assuming a 5 percent hospitalization rate, and a 0.5 percent fatality rate, we would see 115 hospitalizations and 11 deaths, just from the nearly 2,300 cases we are announcing today (Friday). This will cause increasing strain on our already overworked medical professionals, and leave even more families with an empty chair at their dinner table.”