Utah Governor Gary Herbert addressed Utah’s Latinx community today on Tuesday to give an update on the state’s COVID-19 response and the new statewide health guidance levels.
According to the most recent data, the Latinx community makes up just over 14% of Utah’s population but currently accounts for 28.5% of total COVID-19 cases. Pacific Islanders have been the hardest hit demographic, making up 1.6% of the population and 3.3% of positive cases.
In contrast, 78% of Utahns identify as white and only make up 53.3% of total COVID-19 cases.
An August study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that despite only making up 24% of Utah’s workforce, 73% of workplace-related COVID-19 infections between March and June were from the Latinx community. The study also noted the high numbers of Latinx employees in hard hit sectors like manufacturing and construction where social distancing can be difficult.
State officials have been trying to better reach non-English speaking communities in Utah with basic information about the virus and updates on the state’s response.
In a Spanish-language briefing on Tuesday, Governor Herbert touted the state’s low mortality rate from the disease. Although Utah’s COVID-19 mortality rate sits at 0.5%, Herbert warned COVID-19 is still significantly more deadly than the seasonal flu, with the national mortality rate currently just over 2.5%.
“Most people will not die from COVID-19, but it is more fatal than the traditional flu by about six to seven times more fatal,” Herbert said. “In Utah, more than 99% of the people who contract COVID-19 will survive. And the good news, our survival rate in Utah is higher than the national average, which is about 97%”
Utah hit a high in ICU bed capacity last week with University of Utah Health announcing their ICU was 99% full. The statewide ICU capacity was at over 75% last Friday, but has since come down to 66.8% as of Tuesday.
Herbert warned that if hospitals do become overloaded, caregivers would not be able to tend to everyone who needs care.
“Our hospitals are nearing their full capacity, both in treating COVID-19 patients and non COVID-19 patients,” said Herbert. “This means that our hospitals are getting dangerously close to having to ration care as they struggle to provide quality care to all who need it.”
Even with a low mortality rate, Herbert noted that the long-term complications of COVID-19 are still largely unknown. Health experts warn that heart damage, an increased risk of blood clots, lung damage, and damage to the nervous system have all been observed, including more acute side effects like a loss of smell and taste.
Herbert said his own daughter contracted the virus earlier this year and still has not fully regained her sense of smell.
“I want to emphasize, it’s just not the mortality rate that’s the concern,” he said.
“It is, in fact, what we don’t know about the long-term effects of this coronavirus and the debilitating impacts it has on people’s lives.”
The Utah Department of Health reported 1,145 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, along with four additional deaths. Utah’s rolling seven-day average of new cases is at 1,507 and the seven-day average of positive tests is at 17.4%.
21 of 29 counties in Utah remain as ‘high’ transmission locations, including both Summit and Wasatch County. Under a ‘high’ classification, masks are required in public and gatherings are limited to under 10 people.
Intermountain Healthcare also announced changes to their COVID-19 testing. Starting on Tuesday, an appointment is required at all Intermountain curbside testing locations.
In a statement, Intermountain said the demand for COVID-19 testing has increased beyond the capacity of what they can provide. In order to get tested for COVID-19, patients will now need to access an online symptom checker to determine whether they qualify for a test. The symptom checker is available in both English and Spanish here.
The Intermountain COVID-19 hotline has also been disabled in favor of the online symptom checker.