Local COVID-19 cases continue to increase
Active COVID-19 cases now top 100 once again in San Juan County, and Monticello leads the way with a second straight week of increasing by at least 20 cases.
On October 13, Monticello had three active cases. Last week, the number rose to 26, and on October 27 there were 47 confirmed COVID cases in Monticello.
Blanding also saw an increase from 17 active cases last week to 30 this week. Montezuma Creek and Aneth area increased from 14 to 18. Mexican Hat area increased from two to three. Bluff remained the same with three cases, and Monument Valley and Navajo Mountain areas remain the same with zero cases.
San Juan Public Health Director Kirk Benge says although infection rates have changed in different communities since the spring, individual risk of contracting COVID-19 hasn’t changed much through the pandemic.
“Our recommendations aren’t changing dramatically either,” Benge explains. “The primary thing that anyone can do to decrease risk is avoid group gatherings, maintain social distancing, and use a mask whenever social distancing isn’t feasible, and be more aware of hygiene, wash hands often.”
Benge recommends high risk individuals especially understand and implement the above recommendations.
Benge says there are school district staff in Monticello and Blanding who have tested positive, but they haven’t had many students test positive. However, there are a lot of students throughout the district who are quarantined because of potential exposure.
“Virtually every school in the county open for in-person instruction has some individuals quarantining due to social or family exposure,” said Benge, “we expect that to continue to roll through.”
As cases rise in northern San Juan County the state has implemented restrictions, including mandatory mask wearing and restrictions on social gatherings.
Utah’s previous color-coded risk index was replaced two weeks ago by the COVID-19 Transmission index. Counties in the state 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.
On October 29, Utah Governor Gary Herbert announced that San Juan County had been moved from moderate transmission level to high, one of 13 counties to make the move.
The numbers that determine the status of a county are updated on Thursdays. On October 27, San Juan County had the 11th highest 14-day case rate per 100 thousand in the state, with a 22-percent positive rate of those tested.
The move from moderate to high brings a few changes to requirements of San Juan County residents. Under the guidelines, social gatherings such as family dinners, get-togethers with friends, and book clubs will be limited to 10 or fewer. The rule does not impact religious services.
Additionally, masks are required to be worn in public indoor settings, and outdoors, when physical distancing is not feasible. This includes both employees and patrons.
If San Juan County were to move from high to moderate transmission level in the coming weeks, social gatherings of 25 or fewer would be permitted, as would gatherings larger than 25 if everyone wears a mask.
Additionally, under the moderate transmission rate, mask requirements in public spaces would be up to the discretion of county leaders, in consultation with public health.
The announcement comes as Intensive Care Unit (ICU) rooms in hospitals statewide are pushing maximum capacity. On October 27, 68.9 percent of ICU beds were occupied. The Utah Department of Health reports that at 85 percent capacity, the state will functionally be out of beds due to limits on available staff.