Gov. Spencer Cox Says Hospitals Stretched Thin
Governor Spencer Cox said state hospitals have reached a “breaking point” with a recent influx of COVID-19 patients.
Cox compared the current surge in Utah to the spike last winter. He said hospitals are running out of resources to treat patients because there are fewer healthcare workers than there were during the January and February spike.
“The number of hospitalizations has continued to rise,” the governor said. “Of course, the number of cases has continued to rise, and we find ourselves at the breaking point of our hospitalizations.”
This is happening as the average number of daily cases measured over 7-day periods increased from about 800 a day to 1,250 over the past month.
Last week, when zero ICU beds were available, a rural hospital couldn’t transport a patient in critical condition for “a few hours.” The normal referral time for patients in emergencies is 15 to 30 minutes.
As of Tuesday, the state department of health reported 87% of Utah’s ICU beds were taken up, and 89% of those in hospitals that take patient transports.
He said the state wouldn’t be implementing a mask mandate anytime soon, which he called a “tool” but not a solution to the pandemic.
He pointed to Summit County’s mask order as a test of mask effectiveness at this point in the pandemic. That order requires elementary students to wear masks if active cases of COVID-19 on their campuses surpass 2% of the campus population - students, faculty and staff - over a 14-day period.
Deputy director of the Utah Department of Health Michelle Hofmann said cases among school-age children are 3.5 times higher than they were this time last year. She said schools could see a more significant impact this year than they did last fall.
“There are three reasons for this,” Hofmann said. “We’re starting at a higher level; we have the Delta variant, which is five times more transmissible than other variants; and we have almost no masks in schools this year. Also right now, children aged 12-18 are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. As of August 30, only 38.1% of Utah children ages 12 to 17 are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.”
With the Utah Legislature not in session and Cox saying there’s “no way [it] will approve a mask mandate,” he once again called on all Utahns to get vaccinated as the best way to beat the virus.
Since Cox’s last update in early August, the percentage of Utahns who have received at least one dose of vaccine has risen from 65% to 70%.
“If there’s any good news over the past three and a half weeks, it’s that we have seen more people getting vaccinated, and we know that vaccinations are the best way to prevent hospitalization, to prevent death. However, we remain very discouraged by the large amounts of people who have not been vaccinated,” Cox said.
He said he planned to meet with legislators in groups about future action.
The Legislature banned mask mandates in schools in May. On Tuesday, Cox said he signed that bill with the promise that “if things changed, the Legislature would be willing to revisit that.”
He said one possible action could be creating a way for school districts to implement mask mandates if they reach a threshold of students who test positive, as Summit County has done.
Cox and other officials thanked healthcare workers for their sacrifices and care during the recent surge.