New unemployment claims slowing in Utah as state reopens

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, left, and Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, listen during a press conference with legislative, community and business leaders Friday, April 17, 2020, at the Utah State Capitol, in Salt Lake City. Utah is aiming to reopen restaurants and gyms and resume elective surgeries in early May under a plan to gradually reopen the economy that has been decimated by the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Herbert said Friday. (Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News, via AP, Pool)

Gov. Gary Herbert said he was “very concerned” about Utah County after the Utah Department of Health reported recording-breaking COVID-19 cases on Thursday, nearly half of which were in Utah County.

Angela Dunn, state epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health, reported 911 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, the highest number of positive cases since the beginning of the pandemic.

The statewide seven-day rolling case average is 661 cases per day, according to Dunn, while the rolling average for percent of positive laboratory tests is 11.9%. There are 120 current hospitalizations.

“I’m especially concerned with what we are seeing in Utah County,” Dunn said. “They have been experiencing a surge for the past three weeks with the greatest increase in the past week; 40% of our new cases in this past week are from Utah County, but they only account for about 20% of our state’s population.”

Dunn added that there are “parts of Utah County that have infection rates of 1,400 cases per 100,000 people,” which is “approximately six times greater than the state’s infection rate.”

While the current surge began with an increase in cases from individuals ages 15-24, Dunn said there have been increases across all age groups.

“And we are on pace to match or exceed infection rates that we have seen in the Navajo Nation and in New York City,” she said.

Herbert began by saying Utah has had its share of “good news days” throughout the pandemic regarding the state’s handling of the outbreak.

“Today is not one of those good news days, though,” the governor said. “Today we have a significant and troubling concern with this tremendous spike we’ve had this past week with our case numbers, culminating with 911 today.”

Herbert said he was “alarmed that our case counts are growing when they should be stabilizing and dropping” and said he was particularly worried about the disproportionate rise in cases in Utah County.

“I’m very concerned about my home county of Utah County, which is having a significant and serious spike in infections, or a significant disproportion (of cases), where we have less than 20% of the population, yet we’re having up to 40% to 45% of the infections coming out of one area,” said Herbert. “And that should cause us all concerns.”

The governor called on local elected officials and health departments, specifically naming the Utah County Commission and mayors of cities in Utah County, to “take a look and analyze where you’re at with the data in your respective areas of responsibility.”

“The responsibility of directing policy in your backyard falls upon those local elected officials,” he said. “And so we want them to lead, look at the data and give recommendations as far as what should happen to make sure we stay on top of this pandemic and stem the tide of the growth of these infections.”

Herbert criticized “people who ignore health guidelines and those who are out there promoting social gatherings almost in defiance of the recommendations by our best minds in science and medicine that say ... social distancing is an important aspect of how we slow the spread and how we maintain our economy to stay open.”

“I’m alarmed because people seem to indicate they don’t believe in the science,” he said. “And I know that there’s things you can find, and probably everything we have is not perfect and we’re learning as we go ... but just because you find it on YouTube or the Internet doesn’t mean it’s correct.”

The numbers released Thursday follow recent trends in increased positive testing. On Wednesday, the Utah Department of Health reported 747 new COVID-19 cases statewide, the most since July, and one new death and 115 hospitalizations.

Connor Richards covers government, the environment and south Utah County for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at crichards@heraldextra.com and 801-344-2599.

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