These are two stories I wrote yesterday for the newspaper we are sending out today. Doug had notes from the city council meeting on Tuesday that he had me integrate into the COVID-19 story.

Utah is still flubbing its pandemic response and recently set a record for testing deficit.

Chart showing per capita new cases in Grand County, Utah, the U.S., Navajo Nation, and San Juan County

The State of Utah has, since June, sat above an 8% test positivity rate, indicating that the state has conducted too few tests to properly identify cases of COVID-19 and prevent its spread. This week, the state broke the testing deficit record with a test positivity rate over 25%, meaning that more than one in four tests for the coronavirus have come back positive in the past seven days.

The deficit in testing leaves the total number of cases in the state largely a mystery because the deficit in tests has meant too little testing to properly assess the actual number of cases. Regardless, the number of identified cases of COVID-19 has increased since Thanksgiving to over 3,000 new cases per day.

Chart showing test positivity rising in Utah since the start of the pandemic

Test positivity in Utah. Chart via Utah Department of Health

The continuing rise in case rates has also led to more death and hospitalizations across the state, with a peak of 13 deaths from COVID-19 per day in late November. Roughly 90 people were entering the hospital per day at the time.

Across the four major hospital systems in the state, none had an ICU capacity below 90%, according to the latest update from Monday, Dec. 7. The ICU capacity at two of the hospital systems was above 100% as of the beginning of the week.

The Utah Department of Health advises that hospital ICU capacity over 69% is the point at which the hospitals “begin to reach staffing capacity.” At 85% capacity, “Utah will be functionally out of staffed ICU beds, indicating an overwhelmed hospital system,” according to the department’s website.

Moab Regional Hospital Jen Sadoff said that St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction, the closest major hospital to Moab with an ICU, had two open ICU beds as of Tuesday evening. St. Mary’s serves all of Colorado’s western slope and the Moab region.

Sadoff reminded elected city officials Tuesday evening that, in hospitals like St. Mary’s, only so many doctors and nurses are trained to work in the ICU, and overwhelming the unit requires bringing in untrained professionals to staff it. St. Mary’s was down to two ICU beds and it serves all of Colorado’s Western Slope and it’s where Moab Regional transfers critically ill or injured patients.

Southeast Utah Health Department Director Brady Bradford told city officials that contact tracing in Moab, which was suspended after the number of cases overwhelmed the department’s ability to call everyone who would need to be contacted, would resume once cases in the area return to a lower level.

In the meantime, he advised, two vaccine candidates are in the process of being approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but he added that it is not the time to let down guard. Grand County, which has had among the lower transmission rates across Utah during the fall and winter outbreak, can continue to keep cases as low as possible with continued masking and social distancing.

New county commissioner to be appointed Jan. 5; applications due Dec. 30.

A map of the boundaries of Grand County Commission District 3, which encompasses part of northeastern Moab

This map shows the boundaries of the northern part of Grand County Commission District 3, which encompasses part of the east side of Moab and Spanish Valley. The district also extends north to the river. Map via Google Earth

As Grand County Commission Vice Chair Jaylyn Hawks steps down from her position effective Jan. 4, the seven-member body will make an appointment at the beginning of the new year to fill her open seat.

Declarations of candidacy to the position are due to the Grand County Clerk’s office by the end of the day, Dec. 30. The declaration may include a letter of interest and résumé.

A map of the boundaries of the southern part of Grand County Commission District 3, which encompasses part of Spanish Valley

This map shows the boundaries of the southern part of Grand County Commission District 3, which encompasses all Spanish Valley residences southeast of Spanish Valley Drive. Map via Google Earth

Residents who live northwest of 400 West and Mill Creek Drive, an area that includes Hillside Drive and Locust Lane, are eligible for candidacy if they have lived there at least a year and are registered to vote there. The same goes for Spanish Valley residences southeast of Spanish Valley Drive who are also within the district’s boundaries.

Hawks recently moved to Japan after her husband took a one-year visiting professorship there. She attended the latest county meeting remotely from overseas, in a quarantine apartment as she awaited a mandatory COVID-19 test result.