Just one week after Utah’s record for largest single-day increase in COVID-19 cases, Thursday shattered the previous record with 3,919 new confirmed cases. Bear River Health District saw a similar spike with 208 cases on Thursday and 252 on Friday.
“We, as a health department, are stretched to our absolute limits here and have been for months, as have hospital workers throughout the state,” said Caleb Harrison, an epidemiologist at the Bear River Health Department.
While the state’s rolling 7-day average of COVID-19 tests that come back positive is 23.2%, the health district’s is 24.45% (as of Nov. 6, because there is a week lag in analyzing the data). According to State Epidemiologist Angela Dunn, having a high rate of positivity shows there is rampant community spread throughout the state.
Majority of cases
For the first time since September, the 18-25 year old age group is accounting for the largest number of cases — in the Bear River area, as well. The age group accounts for 506 of Cache, Rich and Box Elder’s 1,554 new cases, or 30%, since Oct. 30.
Of Friday’s new cases, 55 were attributed to USU students, faculty and staff in Logan. According to Harrison, 21 cases had self-reported attending a Halloween party or event, and at least 17 of them had attended the “now infamous” Catastrophe 7 dance party at Castle Manor.
Officials at the health department and Cache County said under the new public health order, they plan to work more closely with event organizers and venue operators to ensure requirements are followed.
“We aren’t going to inspect events, and we aren’t going to issue citations or perform law enforcement-type activities,” Harrison said. “However, if we receive complaints, or evidence of gross violations, we’ll investigate and work with the county attorney to determine whether charges or fines should be imposed.”
Though meetings are occurring throughout the county to address enforcement of guidelines, Cache County Attorney James Swink said “there’s still a question of how much teeth the governor’s new order has.”
“You’ll notice when the governor gives his press conference, he doesn’t say his people are going to enforce it,” he said.
Though he said the Cache County Sheriff is on board to enforce the guidelines on events in the county, it would take every city to get on board to have a consistent message.
“We can pass a rule and have it cover the unincorporated county … but we cannot pass laws in Providence,” for example, Swink said. “We cannot pass an ordinance to tie Logan’s hands.”
As the Catastrophe party and another unsanctioned event took place in Hyde Park and North Logan, it would be up to those city attorneys to file charges against organizers, but neither attorney could immediately respond to requests for comment on Friday.
Though part of the new state of emergency and public health order involves testing college students once a week, Utah State University was already planning on ramping up testing before Thanksgiving break in order to account for asymptomatic spread, according to Amanda DeRito, USU’s crisis communications director.
“We know that a large number of students will be going home and visiting family, parents and grandparents, so … we’d like to give them some peace of mind,” DeRito told The Herald Journal.
One such event was the pop-up testing clinic in the Taggart Student Center Ballroom on Wednesday.
Harrison said BRHD hopes to soon unveil a new local dashboard for tracking the spread of the virus and other historical data of the pandemic.
“That way, people can see that the state that we’re currently in and kind of see through these line charts, how quickly and exponential this growth has been,” he said. “It’s another effort to try and get information about just how dire the situation is.”
In order to get the word out in Salt Lake County, officials launched the “COVID-19 Stories” campaign, featuring accounts from health care workers, adults isolated due to the virus and even families who were unable to receive medical care because of hospitals being at or near capacity.
A similar campaign may be in the works between Logan Regional Hospital and the health department.
“It’s really hard to be able to have empathy for a situation until you see it firsthand, unfortunately, and then the families impacted by these deaths that have been occurring,” Harrison said. “I think people in our jurisdiction, and all over Utah in general, have a great love for their neighbors. This is starting to impact everyone’s neighbor.”