SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and health officials said Thursday the state may soon need to implement crisis care protocols as hospitals reach a breaking point amid a record coronavirus surge.
Understaffing and a shortage of ICU beds could soon force Utah hospitals to shift to the protocols that dictate how patients will be treated when the system is overloaded.
Utah residents must take public health guidelines and mask-wearing seriously to avoid the drastic measures, health officials said.
"We cannot continue to argue about masking," said Dr. Mark Shah, an emergency physician with Intermountain Healthcare. "We cannot continue to argue about whether this pandemic is real or made up. And we cannot continue to argue that health care will continue to be fine."
In the past week, Utah's positivity average has increased from 15.5% to 18.1%, according to state data. The weekly average for new cases per day has increased from 1,578 to 1,837. State epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn said that such a high positivity rate indicates the numbers of infection are far higher.
"The hospitals frankly just can't keep up with the trend that we have going now as more and more people are going to be demanding hospital care," Herbert told reporters.
Two more counties were placed in the high transmission category on Thursday, bringing the total with mask requirements to 23. Herbert, who has pushed for voluntary mask usage, said enforcement of health order requirements in the areas would be up to local officials.
There have been over 110,000 reported virus cases in Utah and 598 people have died, according to state data.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.