Utah health officials reported 1,501 new positive COVID-19 cases on Thursday, a new record for the state, but noted that case counts are trending downward in Utah County, the area that has been largely responsible for the recent surge in cases statewide.

Angela Dunn, state epidemiologist of the Utah Department of Health, announced at a press conference Thursday that the state’s rolling seven-day average had reached 1,114 cases per day, an increase from last week’s average of 987 cases per day.

Additionally, Dunn reported a seven-day positivity rate of 13.7%, a slight increase from last week’s 13.6%, and 237 patients currently hospitalized with COVID-19.

“It’s been about one month since we started this surge, and the age distribution of new cases is now spreading across all adult age groups,” Dunn said. “It’s no longer just a surge in our 15-24-year-olds. And this is evidenced by our increasing hospitalization and deaths.”

But Dunn said there were also “encouraging trends,” including in Utah County. Last week, Utah County accounted for 40% of total cases statewide, according to Dunn, which dropped to 30% on Thursday.

Additionally, Dunn reported that of 18 small areas in Utah County, only one of them has seen an increase, and that “the rest of the county has seen a decline in new cases every day for the past several days.”

“This is an example of the success we can have as we come together as a community with a renewed focus,” the state epidemiologist said, noting that the decrease was the result of collaborative action between local officials, universities, school districts and “most importantly, the residents of Utah County (that) made the decision to change their behavior, whether that’s wearing face masks when they’re out (or) practicing physical distancing and staying home when they’re ill.”

“They reignited their commitment to stop unnecessary illness and death, and this has worked,” she said. “Let’s all use this as an example for statewide action moving forward so that we can get control of the spread of COVID-19 here in Utah.”

Of the 1,501 statewide cases reported Thursday, 443 of them were in Utah County, according to data from the Utah County Health Department.

Emily Spivak, an associate professor of medicine in the University of Utah Health’s Division of Infectious Diseases, pleaded with the public on Thursday to wear masks and follow other public health guidelines as state officials reported the record case numbers.

“We all have a choice: We can choose to wear a mask whenever we are outside of our homes, or we can continue as we are now, and we will continue having this conversation over and over,” Spivak said at the press conference. “If we choose the latter, we can all plan on remaining in this current state of uncertainty, (including) experiencing lockdowns, virtual schools, canceled sporting events, holidays without loved ones, and continued economic and personal financial impacts and more and more people’s lives devastated by COVID-19.”

The infectious disease expert added that she was disheartened by individuals and groups who actively defy health guidelines and question the science behind the safety and efficacy of masks in preventing coronavirus spread.

“As a physician, I honestly don’t know how this became a debate,” said Spivak. “But the facts remain clear: Wearing a mask makes a huge difference. It is a fact. They work, and they are safe.”

When asked whether he planned on implementing tougher guidelines to address the continuing surge in cases statewide, Gov. Gary Herbert said he would meet with the state’s unified command to discuss potential actions.

The governor added that he was reluctant to implement a statewide mask mandate.

Utah County currently has a mask mandate in place requiring that masks be worn in all indoor and outdoor public areas where social distancing is not possible. The mandate, which was issued by the Utah County Department of Health, will expire on Oct. 20 at 11:59 p.m. unless it is extended or rescinded.

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.

See what people are talking about at The Community Table!