Utah health official’s weekend plea: Wear mask, maintain distance

SALT LAKE CITY — A day after Utah reported its biggest single-day increase in coronavirus cases, the state epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health took to Twitter asking residents to do their part to stem the pandemic’s tide.

In her “weekend plea” Saturday, Dr. Angela Dunn wrote:

“Our largest increase in #COVID19 cases occurred yesterday & could be due to testing trends and isolated outbreaks. Please prove that right by social distancing and wearing a mask when you can’t; staying home when you feel ill.”

Officials on Friday confirmed the steepest rise in COVID-19 cases since the outbreak began, with 343 cases added in a day. Saturday’s numbers showed another 269 positive test results and five more deaths across the Beehive State. The death toll stands at 112 and total case count is 9,533, the health department reported Saturday.

The health department noted one of the deaths added to the toll was a previously reported death that was under further investigation by the medical examiner’s office. The death investigation showed the cause of death to be COVID-19. The four new deaths include:

• A Salt Lake County woman between the ages of 60 and 84 who was a resident of a long-term care facility.

• A Salt Lake County man older than age 85 who had underlying medical conditions.

• A Weber County woman older than 85 who was a resident of a long-term care facility.

• A Salt Lake County man younger than 60 who had underlying medical conditions.

Dunn said Friday that “comparing weekly cases over the past two weeks, we have seen a 3% increase in daily cases. Specifically, we have seen 1,197 new cases in the current week, compared to 1,162 cases in the week prior,” Dunn said.

She also noted that it is too early to tell if it was a trend signaling a new wave of infections and that resident people must remain vigilant on safe practices.

After Friday’s reported rise in cases, Dr. Marc Harrison, Intermountain CEO and president, urged residents to continue taking measures to stay safe.

“Just because we have ICU beds does not mean that we want one of you in them,” Harrison said.

One effort to ensure people could do their part by wearing a mask hit a milestone Saturday.

A grassroots initiative known as ProjectProtect set out to enlist thousands of sewing volunteers across the state to manufacture personal protective equipment for frontline caregivers, including more than 5 million medical-grade masks. Volunteers dropped their masks off to Deseret Industries throughout the state.

At the Deseret Industries location in Murray, Intermountain, University of Utah Health and Latter-day Saint Charities officials celebrated the milestone and cheered volunteers on as they drove through and handed off the masks they created.

Cathie Owens, an experienced sewer, completed her first 100 masks in the first two days. The next week, she made 300. It went on until she’d created 2,250 masks.

“I’m thankful to be a part of this great cause,” Owens said Saturday.

“As our partners at Intermountain and the University of Utah have said, in a pandemic, there’s a lot of fear, and people don’t know what to do if we hunker down. And there’s a tendency to be divided and to be fearful. But a project like Project Protect is one of the most important things that we can do as communities to bring us together,” said Sister Sharon Eubank, director of Latter-day Saint Charities and first counselor in the Relief Society of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“I appreciate what people have said, ‘We wouldn’t do it for the money. But we’ll do it for our community and to be unified in this effort,’” she said.

More masks will be made in the future through the project for smaller clinics, care centers and hospitals, Sister Eubank added.

“The example Utah has set will be used around the world. Latter-day Saint Charities can take whatever we have learned from this opportunity and we can stand up other Project Protect in areas that will need them as the virus moves to different hot spots around the world.”

Not only did the volunteers produce those 5 million masks, they produced more than 100,000 face shields for caregivers and nearly 100,000 reusable gowns, said Dan Liljenquist, senior vice president of Intermountain Healthcare.

More than 50,000 volunteers in Utah and Idaho helped with the project.

Bob Pendleton, University of Utah Health chief medical quality officer, said that as the virus started hitting Utah’s neighbors, hospital administrators faced “extreme nervousness” about how they would keep staff and providers safe caring for patients. They were especially concerned about not having enough personal protective equipment, he said.

“Thanks to an amazing transformative project like Project Protect, and seeing this pipeline of 5 million masks being manufactured and ready for use on the front lines, has really been incredibly comforting and allowed us to settle in to the good work of keeping our patients and communities safe,” Pendleton said.

Contributing: Mitch Wilkinson

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