Utah has flattened curve, but must
guard against new surge, Cox says
By Suzanne Dean
FAIRVIEW—Based on a widely-used University of Washington epidemiological model, the number of coronavirus cases in Utah should be peaking right now, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox told the Sanpete Messenger Monday.
“We do feel like we’ve flattened the curve. We’ve got to be careful that we don’t get another surge,” Cox, head of the Utah Coronavirus Mitigation Task Force, told the paper in a telephone interview.
Cox said numbers show that during March and early April, each COVID-19 person had infected three others. That ratio has dropped to one positive individual infecting just one other.
The reason the state had to close so many things down and issue a stay-at-home directive was that when the coronavirus cropped up in March, there was no way to know how far it had spread, Cox said. So limits had to be imposed on everybody.
Cox said the state will begin moving this week on slow, methodical steps to restart economic activity. The steps will be paired with increased testing to identify people who have the virus, quarantine those people, trace their contacts and ask the contacts to self-isolate, Cox said.
A 28-page document released last Friday, April 17 titled “Utah Leads Together: Utah’s Plan for Health and Economic Recovery,” includes a color-coded chart outlining what activities will be allowed at different risk levels.
Cox said the Utah plan dovetails with the federal plan put out by President Trump.
The state has been at a “red,” level, which denotes high risk, he said. It is starting to move to “orange,” or moderate risk. After that, the state would move to “yellow” or low risk, followed by “green,” or normal risk. (See accompanying chart).
Cox said he expected Gov. Gary Herbert to announce resumption of some outpatient surgeries this week. Surgeries that qualify will be defined in guidelines from the Utah Hospital Association. That should help the health care system, especially rural hospitals, where revenues have plummeted because of restrictions on elective surgeries.
An Economic Response Task Force, chaired by Derek Miller, president of the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, is due to report today (Thursday) on its first recommendations on opening up other sectors. The governor has one week to accept or reject the report, Cox said.
The next announcement, about May 1, is expected to address restaurants. Cox said he expected dine-in services to resume. “But it won’t be the same,” he cautioned. Tables will need to be 6 feet apart. Increased cleaning of surfaces will be required. “There will be more mask wearing.”
Between new Utah Health Department testing sites and private hospital groups such as Intermountain Healthcare, Utah has the capacity to test 5,000 people per day, Cox said.
The state is still short of being able to test everybody, “but we’re moving toward that,” he said.
The TestUtah program, developed with help from Silicon Slopes, starts with people going to a website, TestUtah.com.
Even so, he said, as activities resume and people start having more contacts with each other, “We do need to be prepared for an increase in total cases,” he said. “We are going to have to make some sacrifices to live with this disease until we have medical interventions and vaccinations.”