Virus Outbreak Utah

Salt Lake County Health Department public health nurse Lee Cherie Booth performs a coronavirus test outside the Salt Lake County Health Department on Friday, Oct. 23.

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Around 2:15 p.m. on Friday, phones in Utah buzzed.

Not because of news breaking that the Miller family was selling the Jazz, but because of the coronavirus pandemic.

In light of the record-setting 2,281 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Utah on Friday, the Utah Department of Health sent out a Wireless Emergency Alert to raise awareness of the surge with the majority of the state in the High-Risk category of the state’s transmission index.

“The goal here is to make sure every Utahn has a chance to understand the Transmission Index and what precautions Utahns need to take in each transmission level of the state,” Utah public information officer Joe Dougherty wrote in an email to announce the alert. “Some still just have no idea how dire our situation is.”

The alert, sent through the same system as Amber Alerts and weather advisories, reminded citizens that masks are required in high transmission areas — such as Cache County — and social gatherings should be limited to 10 or fewer guests.

However, in the Bear River Health District — which includes Cache, Box Elder and Rich counties — not much is changing.

“It’s certainly frustrating to see those high case counts,” said BRHD’s Josh Greer. “...(But) our numbers are looking pretty similar to what we’ve seen in the last few weeks.”

The district only saw an increase of 83 cases on Friday: 66 new cases in Cache, 17 in Box Elder and no new cases in Rich.

While statewide, ICU units are at nearly 73% capacity — 20% made up of COVID-19 patients — hospitals in the Bear River Health District are not. According to Nathan Miller, with Cache Valley Hospital, MountainStar’s Utah ICUs are under 50% capacity.

Sarah Fitzgerald, with Logan Regional Hospital, said though the hospital’s numbers have stayed consistent the past several weeks, it’s the busiest the facility has been since the pandemic began.

“It’s honestly kind of crazy, because even when we thought we were surging in the summer, we never had that many (patients),” she said. “We’re getting to a point where if people don’t start social distancing more, and wearing masks, and taking it seriously, that it could get worse.”

The ‘little things’

Unlike at the beginning of the pandemic when scientists were still learning how to best contain and prevent further spread, Greer said the majority of the public knows what to do, such as wearing masks, washing hands, distancing and staying home when sick.

“The more we get into this pandemic, we know the same things, these little things, will prevent spreading the virus,” he said. “But people have heard it for so long, maybe they don’t want to hear it anymore.”

The pandemic fatigue is nothing compared to the exhaustion healthcare workers are experiencing, Fitzgerald said.

“It would be nice if people could understand and see that from their perspective,” she said, “that we’re all doing the best we can, and the more people that get sick, the harder it’s going to be to care for our community in an effective way.”

The best chance for a return to normal, Greer said, is to follow the guidelines and not give up.

“The little things really will make the difference, and then hopefully we’ll see light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “If we can focus on the light at the end of the tunnel, the vaccine in the future, and keep doing the little things, as exhausted as we are, that’s what’s going to protect the hospitals and contain the spread.”

According to the state’s coronavirus dashboard, the Bear River area has the fifth-highest rate of spread per 100,000 people with 763 new cases in the last 14 days. Wednesday was the only day this week to break 100 cases in Cache County — the same day Weber School District announced Bonneville High School would move online due to an outbreak in cases.

Though no schools in Logan or Cache County’s school districts have moved online due to more than 15 cases of COVID-19 affecting classrooms and there was a steady decline in cases since Wednesday, school officials are worried what will happen if the trend continues.

“When I see numbers like today’s come in, it terrifies me,” said Shana Longhurst, Logan City School District’s communication specialist. “We hope that (everyone) makes good choices and puts forth the effort we know we need to in order to stay safe and stay in school.”

Greer said of past the spikes throughout the state, the Bear River area has yet to be affected.

“We’ve seen these statewide jumps before, especially along the Wasatch Front, which makes sense because it has the highest population in the state, so it’s definitely going to see more cases,” Greer said. “But when they spike down there, we don’t necessarily spike up here.”

Greer said small gatherings and household contacts are the leading spreaders of the virus.

“We are doing great when we go to work or go to the store,” he said. “Everyone is wearing masks, and gloves, and sanitizing, all the little things. Then we go home, or see our friends, and maybe we’re letting our guard down.”

And that could be leading to the current surge in the state.

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