Confirmed cases of COVID-19 are continuing to spike in Box Elder County and surrounding areas, mirroring a statewide and national trend that is putting increasing strain on health care providers and forcing the alteration or outright cancellation of many planned events heading into the holiday season.
Just one week after Utah’s record for largest single-day increase in COVID-19 cases, last Thursday shattered the previous record with 3,919 new confirmed cases. Bear River Health District saw a similar spike with 208 cases last Thursday, 252 on Friday, and hundreds more over last weekend.
Box Elder County alone has recorded more than 600 new cases since the beginning of November.
“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.
A backlog of COVID-19 reports that originally didn’t list county data were reported Saturday, artificially inflating some already high numbers in the Bear River Health District and statewide in Utah. BRHD reported 305 new coronavirus cases within the three-county district, but 65 of those were from the backlog of cases over the past couple of weeks.
BRHD reported 114 new cases on Sunday, the last day for which numbers were available before this week’s Leader went to press. The average of daily new cases over the past seven days was 180 as of Sunday.
There were an estimated 2,662 active cases within the district: 1,893 in Cache, 760 in Box Elder, and nine in Rich County. Currently 10 people are hospitalized in Cache County with the virus, and eight are hospitalized in Box Elder.
Two more deaths attributed to COVID-19 were recorded in Box Elder County last week, bringing the county’s total number of deaths caused by the disease since the beginning of the pandemic to 10.
While the state’s rolling 7-day average of COVID-19 tests that come back positive was at 23.2%, the Bear River health district rate was even higher at 24.45% as of Nov. 6. According to State Epidemiologist Angela Dunn, having a high rate of positivity shows there is rampant community spread throughout the state.
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.
Officials at the health department 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 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,” Swink 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.”
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.
BRHD plans unveil a new local dashboard this week 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,” Harrison 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.”