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Driven by delta variant, COVID-19 surges again in Utah

July 7, 2021 GMT

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Hospital leaders in Utah renewed their pleas for people to get vaccinated Wednesday as the state experiences another surge in new COVID-19 cases from the faster-spreading delta variant.

The delta variant has begun to surge in Utah over the past month and now represents about 80% of cases in the state, said Dr. Michelle Hofmann, deputy director of the state health department. Utah has averaged about 386 confirmed cases per day over the last week, nearly double the case rate the state was experiencing at its lowest point in early June.

The surge is largely occurring in unvaccinated people who are being infected and hospitalized at six times the rate of vaccinated people, Hoffman said.

“The frustrating part about all of this is that, unlike last year, we have all the tools to stop this pandemic in its tracks,” Hoffman told reporters during a virtual briefing. “The COVID-19 vaccines work.”

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Utah now ranks fourth in the nation for new cases per capita, and the rolling average number of daily new cases has increased by 31% over the past two weeks, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Utah met health officials’ goal of vaccinating 70% of adults and 25% of children aged 12 to 15 with at least one dose by the July Fourth holiday, but hospital leaders say more people need to be vaccinated to avoid hospitals from being overrun again.

Dr. Mark Briesacher, the chief physician executive with Intermountain Healthcare, said hospitals are experiencing an increasing number of COVID patients on top of the rising number of people who are getting injured in car accidents or other activities as more people return to their normal routines.

The state health department reported Tuesday that 44.2% of Utah’s 3.2 million residents were fully vaccinated and 49.6% had received at least one of two required shots.

“We can stop this surge before it gets worse,” Hoffman said. “We can help keep our health care systems functioning efficiently. But it’s going to require people who have not been vaccinated yet to do so now.”

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Eppolito is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.