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Gov. Herbert on COVID-19 cases: These aren't numbers, they are people

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Gov. Gary Herbert will address the state Thursday for his weekly COVID-19 briefing. (Photo: KUTV)

Gov. Gary Herbert spoke Thursday about the "emerging situation we find ourselves in today" as coronavirus cases continue to spike.

He said Utah's wave in COVID-19 is not unique and he says "everybody is going to have their turn." The governor emphasized that cases are rising, but is encouraged by news about a vaccine.

On Thursday, Utah recorded 1,008 new cases of COVID-19, less than the 7-day rolling average for positive tests, 987.

Here's the data, courtesy of the Utah Department of Health:

Positives:

We will report 74,050 positive cases Thursday. This is an increase of 1,008 cases from Wednesday.

Lab Tests:

We will report 836,218 people tested. This is an increase of 6,248 people tested from Wednesday.

Trends:

The rolling 7-day average for positive tests is 987 per day. The rolling 7-day average for percent of positive laboratory tests is 13.6%

Hospitalizations:

There are 201 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19. Total hospitalizations from the beginning of the outbreak are 3,882.

Deaths:

We will report 459 total deaths, which is the same as Wednesday.

Recovered:

55,510 of Utah's cases are considered "recovered". A case with a diagnosis date of more than three weeks ago, who has not passed away, is considered recovered.

Herbert encouraged everyone to remember that the daily numbers reports are not just numbers, they are people.

Last week, Provo and Orem were moved back to "orange" restriction levels because of the increase in cases, specifically among college-aged students at Brigham Young University and Utah Valley University. A mask mandate was also implemented in Utah County.

"I am deeply saddened by what has happened there because of the controversies [in Utah County] and there doesn't need to be," Dr. Clark Bishop, with Utah Valley Hospital, said.

He said there are three things that can help Utah win the fight against COVID-19.

  1. Wear your mask
  2. Wash your hands frequently
  3. Watch your distance

Herbert has repeatedly said he will not issue a statewide mask mandate and would rather let local leaders decide. Several areas in the state, however, require masks.

"The basic science is sound, so I would plead with you to wear a mask. Especially students in Utah County when you're going to be with your friends," Bishop said, pleading with people to wear masks.

If only 1% of people die, why don't we just have rave parties? The people who are sick with COVID are very, very sick and it is heartbreaking. They are in the ICU all alone, writing goodbye notes to their children.

While getting emotional talking about the affects of COVID in patients, Bishop said, "It is way, way better to prevent COVID than try to treat COVID."

"We have some people we call long haulers-- people who have been affected by COVID-19 and it just keeps hanging on and hanging on. They don't feel very good. This is a miserable, persistent, ugly disease. And whatever we can do to prevent it, we ought to do," he said.

Herbert said even with Utah's case counts hovering around 1,000 per day, there is some good news. The percentage of cases among the Hispanc and Latino population is continuing to decline.

According to state officials, these populations are disproportionately affected by COVID-19. In April, Angela Dunn, the state’s epidemiologist, said that 28% of those who tested positive in Utah identify as Latino or Hispanic, while they make up only 14% of the population.

Herbert addressed a state audit that found Utah was not as prepared as it could have been for the coronavirus pandemic.

The Limited Review of State Emergency Procurements and Emergency Response included an analysis of the state’s level of preparedness, coordination in the beginning stages of the COVID-19 outbreak and declared emergency.

The audit found an unclear chain of command hindered early response efforts. It also couldn't prove who authorized the state's purchase of hydroxychloroquine and that Utah had a very low supply of masks and face shields, despite a directive dating back to 2007 to have extra personal protection equipment on hand.

The audit interviewed many people who could not remember details of discussions and most say there was no paper trail. Read the audit here.

"I appreciated the chance to review what we can do better," Herbert said. "This is the reality of audits. They are not meant to praise. Their purpose is to identify gaps and areas of improvement."

The truth is, pandemics are hard. The whole world was caught off guard, and the audit reflects the difficulty of the challenges we’ve faced. But no state was better prepared than Utah to weather the storm.

He added that one problem of stockpiling PPE is that it has a shelf life.

"We have ideas to do that moving forward, and we plan to work with the Legislature to institute these long-term preparedness plans," Herbert said. "This audit validates what we already practice, including stockpiling PPE. We have a warehouse full of PPE so we are ready to supply hospitals and health departments if needed this winter."

Herbert assured the public that "every penny" of the state's order for hydroxychloroquine has been returned.

For transparency, all the contracts have been posted on coronavirus.utah.gov and purchasing.utah.gov/covid-19.

Herbert announced a $2 million grant from the Utah Labor Commission for small businesses. The Small Business Quarantined Employee Grant program is geared to help small businesses (less than 50 employees) to continue to pay employees who are required to quarantine or isolate due to a positive COVID-19 test or exposure to someone who has tested positive. For more information, visit: laborcommission.utah.gov

And for people who don't have jobs, Herbert encouraged them to contact the Utah Department of Workforce Services.

"We have a lot of jobs out there. There are jobs available right now," he said.