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Utah’s coronavirus spike worsens as governor studies measures

SALT LAKE CITY — A spike of coronavirus cases in Utah that began after schools and colleges resumed classes reached a new peak Friday and led the state’s Republican governor to say again that he’s considering new measures to combat the spread of the virus.

Gov. Gary Herbert said he will meet with his command team on Monday after what he described as an “alarming” spike that makes him question if previous warnings and public education are enough.

He said one day earlier he’s considering a state mask mandate — a move he’s stopped short of making despite repeated pleas for residents to use face coverings when social distancing isn’t possible. He has instead allowed counties to decide if they needed bans.

The 1,117 cases reported Friday in Utah surpassed the previous record of about 875 hit twice in July, according to state data.

That tally raised the state’s rolling average number of daily new coronavirus cases to 726, more than double 381 just one week ago. The state’s positive rate hit 12.5% Friday, up from 8.2% one month ago.

“For months, we have warned people that they need to stay home if they are sick, and they need to stay away from others if they have tested positive for COVID-19,? Herbert said. “They need to wear a mask around others, even when they are not sick. We all need to consider the common public good when making daily decisions, and frankly, there is no room for lackadaisical behavior.”

Schools may be fueling surge in cases

The new virus case surge is likely driven by high school and colleges resuming in-person learning and could lead to an increase in hospitalizations for older people over the next few weeks, said Dr. Eddie Stenehjem, an infectious diseases specialist at the Intermountain Healthcare hospital network based in Salt Lake City, earlier this week.

Utah’s public schools opened last month with a combination of in-person and online learning and some school districts let parents choose between the two options.

Utah County south of Salt Lake City is fueling the spike, with the county accounting for about 40% of the state’s new cases this week even though its population makes up just 20% of the state’s 3.2 million residents.

The county’s rate of about 76 cases per 100,000 people is more than double any other county. The rate in the state’s most populous county of Salt Lake County was 34 cases per 100,000 people.

Many of the new cases are being driven by college students who attend Brigham Young University and Utah Valley University, state health officials say. BYU students have received criticism for large off-campus gatherings and state epidemiologist Angela Dunn said this week that while college officials have implemented solid preventative measures for campus, “they need help from their students to act responsibly while off campus.”

Elected officials and health leaders in Utah County, which has not put in place a face covering mandate outside of the city of Provo, are discussing ways to stop the spike, Herbert said.

No new deaths were reported Friday, leaving the state’s total at 437 since the pandemic began.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

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