Food is loaded onto tables for those in need outside of the Catholic Community Services of Utah Friday, Nov. 20, 2020, in Ogden, Utah. As coronavirus concerns continue, the need for assistance has increased. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah Gov. Gary Herbert on Monday relaxed restrictions on social gatherings ahead of Thanksgiving weekend as coronavirus cases and hospitalizations continue to surge.

There were 545 people hospitalized for COVID-19 in Utah on Monday, and referral center ICU beds reached 91.9% occupancy statewide, according to state data. The increased number of hospitalizations has prompted doctors and public health officials to advise against attending large Thanksgiving gatherings.

Herbert, a Republican, said he will not extend his previous two-week order that required people to limit social gatherings to people in their immediate household but urged caution. He recommended masks, social distancing and smaller gatherings for the holiday.

“You increase the risk when you bring people into your home,” he said during a press briefing. “That’s just the harsh reality.”

Rich Saunders, the interim director of the state health department, recommended that people in high transmission areas, which include 26 of the state’s 29 counties, limit social gatherings to 10 or fewer. The state’s mask mandate will remain in place.

Taylor Randall, dean of the the University of Utah’s David Eccles School of Business, also urged Utah residents to wear masks to help boost the state’s “fragile” economy. He cited a new university study which found that mask mandates lower COVID-19 infections while increasing consumer mobility and spending.

In Utah, 1 in 135 people were diagnosed with COVID-19 in the past week, and the state is ranked tenth in the country for new cases per capita, according to data from Johns Hopkins.

The state's seven-day average of new daily cases continued to climb to 3,349 per day. In the past week, 23.6% of people tested have received a positive result. State Epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn said the positivity rate is starting to stabilize because of a push to increase testing.

There have been over 179,000 reported virus cases in Utah and 797 known deaths related to the virus, according to state data.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.


Eppolito is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.