SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Utah’s COVID-19 cases continue to trend in the wrong direction, as health experts worry about the upcoming holiday season and people gathering in large groups.

Utah’s COVID-19 14-Day Case Rate per 100,000 Population by County (Source: UDOH)

If you look at the Utah Department of Health’s website for the map of 14-day case rates per 100,000 people by county, nearly the entire state is in red. While this can be extremely alarming at first, Erin Clouse with University of Utah Health explains it’s all about how the data is presented. She is their Strategic Engagement Manager who is skilled in statistical data analysis and has been tracking the numbers since the beginning of the pandemic.

Clouse explained that the reason why the map is so red is because the scale maxes out at 200 cases, which most of our counties have exceeded.

Crude Case Rate per 100,000 People in Utah by Small Area (Source: UDOH)

If we take a look at UDOH’s map showing the crude case rate per 100,000 people in Utah by small area, the colors are much more distinct. However, she said that case numbers may not be the best metric anymore to measure the severity of COVID-19 in our state.

“Case counts were originally a pretty decent measure of COVID in the State of Utah. When people were feeling ill, they would go and get tested. I think right now, testing is lower. We’re not testing as many people and also, there’s over-the-counter testing. So if you receive a positive test over the counter, you don’t necessary have to follow up with anybody,” said Clouse.

She said the best indicators are the numbers of COVID-19 positivity rates, hospitalizations, and deaths. Although the State of Utah is seeing fewer deaths than the peak of last year, the rates are parallel to the number of people killed by cancer and heart disease every day.

“COVID is not gone. COVID is still killing our friends and neighbors. The virus is just looking for its next opportunity to spread from person-to-person,” said Clouse. “Our healthcare workers have been very busy for a longer period of time for the same time they were in the winter peak last year.”

So could Utah hit a fifth wave of COVID-19? Clouse said it’s possible with the way our numbers are trending.

“It does concern me that our peaks and the hospitalizations right now are at peak levels that we saw last winter. The difference is, we are pre-holiday now. Last year, we saw this peak, it was during the holidays and after,” she said.

Just because we have more tools this year to fight COVID-19, Clouse said we should still take safety measures for the holidays this year.

“The best things that we could be doing is if you are not vaccinated, please talk to a healthcare provider and consider being vaccinated. Please, I urge you to get vaccinated,” Clouse advised.

She added, “Distance yourself from other people, wear your mask, get vaccinated, and if you must come together, make sure the ventilation in the room is high, windows open and go outside.”

Officials with University of Utah Health also emphasized the importance for seniors to get their booster shots. They say the efficacy of the vaccine can drop off quickly and getting that booster is critical for Utahns 65 and up.