SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Roughly 17 percent of COVID-19 tests are coming back positive, experts say — a sign that community spread is high and case counts are far higher than the numbers suggest.

“We’ve been seeing that percent positivity going up in the past few weeks,” said Dr. Leisha Nolen, Utah’s state epidemiologist.

“A lot of other states, they are running about four percent positivity,” added Nolen.

Percent positivity is actually used to estimate how many cases go unreported, Nolen says. The conventional wisdom is that “a lot of people” aren’t going in to get tested, according to Nolen, which is why those who do get tested provide clues about the population at large.

“We should be cautious — we know that there’s a lot of COVID in our community,” said Nolen.

Utah’s 17 percent positivity rate indicates high community spread, she says, and the state’s hospitals have been inundated with COVID patients since September. Across Utah, ICU beds are at or near capacity.

“The sad reality is we still have people dying from this virus, and we have people dying from a largely preventable disease,” said Jess Gomez, spokesperson for Intermountain Healthcare.

“We have young people, who are active, athletic, energy-filled, and they’re in the hospital and they can’t hardly gasp for breath because their lungs and their pulmonary systems are so ravaged by this virus,” added Gomez.

“That’s the reality, and that’s the thing that our caregivers see every day,” said Gomez.

“Our caregivers have been doing this for 22 months, and they’re tired, and it just continues and continues and continues,” added Gomez.

Across Intermountain Healthcare, Gomez says 89 percent of ICU patients are not fully vaccinated.

Currently, Utah is averaging about 1,500 positive cases per day.

In June, before the Delta variant, the average case count was closer to 200.

“We’re almost as bad as we were last winter,” said Dr. Leisha Nolen, Utah’s epidemiologist.

“And it’s really concerning,” added Nolen.