For the third consecutive week, Southern Utah University announced a record number of new COVID-19 cases within the campus community as 53 more positive tests were reported on Thursday.
The new cases were reported from Nov. 5-11. Since the university began reporting cases on Aug. 27, 167 cases of COVID-19 have been reported among the pool of students, faculty and staff.
Of those 167 cases, 108 have come in the last three weeks.
The university recently updated the Weekly Self-Reported COVID-19 Cases webpage to reflect when patients initially tested positive, instead of when cases were reported to the school, according to SUU President Scott L. Wyatt.
“It’s been better here than anywhere else,” Wyatt said. “If you follow the number of COVID cases [at other universities], we’ve been lower than everywhere else. I think everyone is trying hard and we’re seeing really positive results.”
Brigham Young University has had the largest outbreak in the state with 2,364 cases reported since the pandemic began. The University of Utah has reported 1,594, Utah State University has reported 1,417 and Utah Valley University has reported 670 cases during that same time frame.
The university announced last week that, in conjunction with the emergency orders announced Sunday by Gov. Gary Herbert, students will be able to be tested for COVID-19 weekly on campus in the near future.
Many of the specific details of when and how tests will be administered are still up in the air. President Wyatt expressed that a lot will come down to how many tests the school receives after other universities along the Wasatch Front, where case rates are much higher, obtain the tests they need.
Wyatt also mentioned that because most in-person instruction is moving online after the Thanksgiving break, if SUU does not receive tests before the break, “we may not have much until January,” he said. The spring semester is scheduled to start on Jan. 11.
“We’re still figuring this out,” President Wyatt said. “The fact that we’re getting tests last means they know we’re in better shape than anywhere else. I take that as a positive.”
The Southwest Utah Public Health Department also announced a record single-day high in Iron County with 33 new positive cases.
At the state level, cases are skyrocketing. The Utah Department of Health announced a single-day record of 3,919 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, shattering the previous high of 2,987 reported on Nov. 6.
UDOH also announced a record number of hospitalizations. Herbert said in a news conference that between 4.5% and 5% of those new cases will end up in the hospital as well.
“Those numbers should be alarming to all of us,” he said, warning that the state’s hospitals could be overrun if the case numbers don’t come down.
Herbert stressed the importance of obeying the statewide mask mandate and ban on gathering with people outside of the same household that he announced on Sunday in order to slow the spread of the virus.
But Iron County Sheriff Ken Carpenter told the Salt Lake Tribune that his department will not enforce Herbert’s mandates.
“We don’t really believe that this is entirely the right solution,” Carpenter said in an interview with the Tribune. “If our store owners and citizens wish to follow those mandates, that’s their choice. But health care is a personal decision and shouldn’t be a government mandate.”
Other county officials, including Iron County Commissioner Alma Adams, said that enforcing the guidelines may prove difficult, but it’s important that citizens follow the guidelines on their own.
“It’s hard to accept mandates,” Adams told the Tribune, “but I think everybody, when they’re close to someone else, they go in a store, or any public place, they should wear their mask and distance.”
Herbert mentioned in the news conference that he hopes a vaccine will be available in Utah in as soon as four or five weeks, and “certainly by the first of the year.” The first doses, he said, would go to first responders, health care workers and people in high-risk groups.
Story by: Connor Sanders
Photo by: Christopher Dimond