Gov. Herbert announces new ‘Transmission Index’ to tackle COVID-19

Map Courtesy: Utah Department of Health

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, Oct. 13, 2020 (Gephardt Daily) — Gov. Gary Herbert has announced a new “Transmission Index” to tackle COVID-19 as cases soar in Utah.

The Utah Department of Health on Tuesday reported 987 new lab-documented cases of COVID-19 in the past 24 hours.

Cumulative positive cases now number 87,819. Total deaths stand at 522, the same number as Monday.

At a press conference at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, Herbert announced the new system is based on the Transmission Index, which calculates the level of COVID-19 transmission in each county by analyzing three data points; percent positivity of tests, cases per 100,000, and hospital capacity.

The Transmission Index clarifies the public health metrics used to determine which counties are placed in which transmission level. Counties will be placed in one of three transmission levels: High, Moderate, or Low. These levels correspond directly to case rates, positivity rates, and ICU utilization.

Data will be analyzed weekly, and counties will be placed into a transmission level depending solely on what their data shows. Changes from a lower level to a higher level may occur weekly. Changes from a higher level to a lower level may occur every 14 days at minimum, when thresholds are met.

For more on the transmission index, including which counties are currently in which category, click here.

Masks will be required if you live in a High Transmission Area, Hebert said at the news conference. For the next two weeks, the Department of Health is also directing they be worn in Moderate Transmission Areas.

The Utah Department of Health also will also issue a Public Health Order that all persons living in High and Moderate Transmission Areas limit casual social gatherings to 10 individuals or fewer, for a period of two weeks — beginning Thursday, Oct. 15.

The COVID-19 Transmission Index represents the collaborative work of state and local public health officials, the Governor’s Office, legislative leaders, the hospital industry, and business leaders, Herbert added.

Herbert said at the news conference, as well as in a series of tweets: “Utah is now facing its most dire episode yet in this epidemic. Our infections are at an all-time high. Although Utah has one of the lowest mortality rates in the country, the dramatic increase in infection puts the integrity of our health care system at risk.

“Over the past four weeks, we have seen our infection rates and case counts skyrocket to the highest they have ever been. Our case counts have hovered around 1,000 per day. Our percent positivity is now over 13%.

“Worst of all, our hospitals are getting overwhelmed, and our healthcare workers are getting stretched too thin to provide the best possible care. We are utilizing 15.8% of our ICU beds to treat COVID-19 patients, more than double what we were before, and our total ICU utilization is at 69.6%. This leaves our hospitals precariously close to being unable to treat COVID and non-COVID patients in need of critical care.

“You and your families deserve good health, more normalcy, and certainty. As a state government, we owe it to you to make critical decisions about the COVID-19 pandemic based on critical health data — not based on fear, and certainly not based on politics.

“Today I am announcing that we are retiring the colored guidance system, which has served us well up to this point, and replacing it with a new system that will incorporate more refined epidemiological input.”

Herbert added: “The new COVID-19 Transmission Index zeroes in on adapting behaviors that will get us the most bang for our buck in curbing coronavirus infections.

“First, the new system includes mask requirements, which are based on the level of transmission in your area. For now, masks are required across all transmission levels when attending events of public gatherings, like a theater, a sporting event, a live concert, or a wedding.

“Additionally, in counties designated as High Transmission Areas, masks are required in public indoor settings, and outdoors when physical distancing is not possible. For example, at the store, or the library.”

Mask requirements already in place will remain in place, he said. These include county mask requirements, and mask requirements in K-12 schools and in state-owned buildings.

In counties designated as Moderate or Low Transmission Areas, masks are strongly encouraged, and county executives are empowered to require masks on their own with consultation from their local health officer.

Casual social gatherings are limited to the following sizes:

  • High Transmission Areas: 10 or fewer
  • Moderate Transmission Areas: 25 or fewer, unless masks are worn.
  • Low Transmission Areas: 50 or fewer, unless masks are worn

Herbert added: “While it may be true that in casual social gatherings we are usually among trusted loved ones or friends, the virus knows no boundaries, and because we let down our guard in these settings, it is a popular point of viral spread.

“The new system also puts emphasis on controlling spread at casual social gatherings — this is when you’re getting together when you’re family and friends. These are a significant source of COVID-19 transmission in Utah.

“Public gatherings can be held in all transmission levels, but masks are always required. This covers things like performing venues, weddings, religious services, and sporting events. Additional distancing requirements are in place, depending on the transmission level.”

Herbert concluded: “We the people can control the outcome of this issue. So let’s have a siren call for all of us to work together as much as we can as we move forward. Working together we will defeat this battle with the coronavirus and that’s what we all want to do, so let’s find what parts we can play, what can I do, what can you do, to make sure we get across the finish line here and emerge victorious over COVID-19.”

To watch the full press conference click here.


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