As COVID-19 cases continue to rise across the state, Utah’s top epidemiologist warned residents and lawmakers that unless changes are made the state will see “preventable deaths.”

Utah Department of Health state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn made the comments at a press conference June 16, adding that the state is in an “acceleration phase” after some public health restrictions were lifted and infections began to rise. Utah Gov. Gary Herbert announced last week that the state will "pause" the rapid lifting of public health guidelines despite resistance from some business and political organizations.

Utah’s spike in confirmed cases began after restrictions were lifted prior to Memorial Day. Since the holiday weekend, the state has seen between 200 to 400 new positive cases of COVID-19 every day, with some days spiking as high as 500 new cases.

Dunn said that this spike was not due to greater testing volumes.

“We’re actually seeing increasing community spread,” Dunn said, noting that half of all adults in Utah are at risk of serious illness if they contract the coronavirus.

As restrictions have been lifted, residents may socialize or congregate with larger groups of people. This has caused an immense strain on the state’s system of contact tracing, Dunn said. Contact tracing works with people who have COVID-19 to build a list of people they may have infected, alerting those individuals and recommending that they isolate in order to prevent the further spread of disease.

Dunn stressed that without proper physical distancing, mask-wearing and other hygiene practices the state would suffer more deaths due to the disease, particularly in the fall.

There have been at least 14,937 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Utah, resulting in 1,073 hospitalizations and 145 deaths. June has seen the highest daily case counts since the beginning of the pandemic and officials reported eight deaths on June 12, the highest single-day death count.