Governor Announces Utah’s COVID-19 Transmission Index: A New Paradigm in COVID Guidance

Yesterday, Governor Herbert was joined by Director Richard Saunders and Dr. Angela Dunn of the Utah Department of Health to unveil the state’s new response plan to the coronavirus pandemic. This novel framework arrives during a time when the state has seen spiking case counts across the board. 

Though Utah fared well during the initial onset of the pandemic, a new game plan has become increasingly necessary with infections rising during the summer months. Even with our mortality rates being amongst the best in the nation, a rise in cases puts the integrity of our healthcare systems at risk.  As a result, after thorough consultation with public health leaders and legislative leaders, the old color guidance system is now being replaced by the Transmission Index.

By contrast to the old phased health guidelines, the Transmission Index provides trusted guidance based on the calculated amount of infection and transmission that happens in our communities. In using those data points, the Index will provide Utahns with concrete actions that help stem the spread. 

The three main criteria for determining a county’s transmission level are:

  1. 7-day average percent of positive tests
  • This metric shows the average percent of positive laboratory results over the most recent seven-day period. When the percent positivity is above 10, it is an indication that not enough testing is being performed. If the number falls below 5, it means we are likely capturing most COVID-positive individuals. 
  1. 14-day case rate per 100,000 people
  • This metric summarizes the new cases reported over the past 14 days per 100,000 people. Also referred to as an “incidence rate,” it will inform policymakers on how quickly a disease is spreading in a given population. 
  1. Statewide ICU Utilization
  • This metric is an indication of space available within Intensive Care Units throughout the state. Statewide data is being collected as opposed to local data because some localities do not have ICUs and others have limited capacity, meaning they will transfer their sickest patients elsewhere. As a result, statewide numbers provide a more accurate snapshot of the capacity of our ICUs.

Based on these three main criteria, a locality will be assigned a transmission status (high, moderate, or low). You can view the data requirements for each of these phases based on the three aforementioned criteria below. A county must meet thresholds for two of the three criteria in order to transition from phase to phase. 

In order for a region to be moved back (i.e., from moderate to high) they must show data within a transmission status’ parameters for one week. However, for a locality to move forward (i.e., from high to moderate), it must show data within the new transmission status’ parameters for two weeks. Importantly, all data will be reviewed every Thursday by state leaders to determine if any changes are necessary. 

Additionally, each phase comes with associated guidelines for individuals and businesses. In addition to the always recommended measures of appropriate physical distancing and hygiene practices, you can view some of new guidelines below: 

It is important to note that mask-wearing will be required in areas of high transmission (as well as in areas of moderate transmission during the October 15th to 29th circuit breaker). You can view the guidelines in greater detail, along with information pertaining to businesses and schools on our coronavirus website here.  

As part of the effort to reframe the battle against the coronavirus as solely a public health crisis and not a political matter, the governor also expressed his intent to move Utah out of a State of Emergency and into a Public Health Emergency this week. This change in legal designation will be declared concurrently by the Utah Department of Health and Governor Herbert. By taking this necessary step, we are better enabled to focus on protecting the welfare and health of the public, and not political battles concerning the governor’s legal authority to keep the state under a long term State of Emergency. 

For frequently asked questions about these new guidelines, you can view a pdf with detailed answers here.

The most salient message that emerges with all these new changes concerns behavior. Utahns control their own behavior and in turn their own destiny. Each of us can find ways to be a little better in our daily lives. Though there is no silver bullet to eradicating the virus, with everyone playing their small role, Governor Herbert has faith we can slow the spread to save lives, keep our economy improving, and better our quality of life.