SALT LAKE CITY — As Utah's number of COVID-19 cases increased by 3,793 on Friday with 22 more deaths reported, Gov. Spencer Cox announced teachers and school staff will be able to get the vaccine for the disease starting Monday.
That comes as part of an executive order announced by Cox on Friday. State leaders are encouraging districts to prioritize who can receive the vaccine by age and any comorbidities they may have, Cox said. That means that older teachers or those who have underlying health conditions should be prioritized before healthy 25-year-old teachers and school staff, he added.
Utah State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sydnee Dickson said that she was excited to see educators emphasized in Utah's distribution plan.
"It is an exciting time in our state to see educators prioritized in this fashion. By allowing teachers to be a priority for the COVID-19 vaccine, we are giving them the necessary extra layer of protection to feel safe inside of their classrooms," Dickson said in a statement. "This step allows school communities to continue to excel in meeting student needs by allowing for quality in person instruction. I am proud to see Utah succeeding and leading in the nation by highlighting the importance of getting teachers vaccinated early."
Starting Jan. 18, all Utahns ages 70 and older will be able to get the COVID-19 vaccine if they want to get one, Cox said. That population is around 240,000 Utahns, so it will take several weeks. However, it's anticipated that all people in that 70-and-older category who want a vaccine will have one by the end of February.
After that, the state will focus on vaccinating Utahns age 65 and older and people with certain health conditions that will be announced later, Cox said.
Utah leaders also hope to vaccinate all residents and staff of long-term care facilities by Jan. 23, the governor said.
Cox acknowledged his frustration that Utah and the rest of the country has not been able to meet the high expectations for vaccine distribution thus far. Utah is receiving about 33,000 doses of the vaccine per week from the federal government, and 77,228 have officially been administered in the state. Vaccine data reporting delays may mean that number is lower than the actual total — Utah leaders believe closer to 90,000 doses have actually been administered, Cox said Friday.
The new governor said he met with health officials and other stakeholders in Utah's COVID-19 unified command group Friday and stressed the importance of stepping up the state's vaccine distribution.
"There is nothing more important in any of our careers collectively than what we are doing now," Cox said he told the unified command. "This is what the world has been waiting for. ... It is unacceptable to have vaccines sitting on a shelf."
Cox announced the news Friday as he delivered his first COVID-19 news conference. Lt. Gov. Diedre Henderson and Utah Department of Health state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn also spoke at the event.
Watch the replay of Friday's news conference below.
Cox was inaugurated earlier this week as Utah's 18th governor, taking over from former Gov. Gary Herbert, who previously hosted weekly COVID-19 news conferences.
State aims to ramp up vaccinations
Survey data indicates 89,431 total vaccines have been administered, though only 77,228 doses have been officially reported as administered to the Utah Department of Health. State officials have said there is a reporting delay of up to seven days from when vaccines are shipped to Utah, administered to patients, and finally reported to the health department.
Of the 77,228 doses officially reported to have been administered so far in Utah, 2,113 are second doses, according to health department data.
Cox said Friday the state has no plans to withhold second doses of the vaccine in order to administer more first doses.
The governor did point out that people who have returned a positive COVID-19 test within the last 90 days will not be able to get a vaccine at this time. Reinfection of the disease for people who have already had it is extremely rare, and for now the vaccine doses will be reserved for people who haven't had the disease, he said.
"We should use the vaccine for people who have not had the virus and do not have any immunity," Cox said.
In a further effort to incentivize health care systems to use every last vaccine dose and leave none sitting on shelves, Cox also announced some strict regulations Friday.
Health districts and hospitals that receive vaccine doses must distribute them within the same week they get them, Cox said. If they don't meet that goal, the organization will see its vaccine allocation reduced; extra, unused doses will be redistributed, he added.
Organizations will also be required to report how many vaccine doses have been administered to the state at 7 a.m. daily, the governor said.
Moving forward, vaccine administration will be primarily handled by Utah's local health districts, Cox said. The goal is to ramp up vaccine administration so that those health districts can administer a minimum of 50,000 doses per week and possibly up to 100,000 weekly, he said.
Right now, the federal government is only allocating about 33,000 vaccine doses to ship to Utah per week, so Cox said he expects local health districts to run out of doses each week as they will not be able to keep up with demand for the vaccine. But that will mean the state will be able to request more vaccines from the federal government if Utah consistently uses up all of its allocation, he added.
Demand for the vaccine among Utahns older than 70 is very high, so hopefully the state will be able to vaccinate all people in that population by the end of February, Cox said. If that's the case, the vaccine timeline could potentially be moved up so that the general public is able to get it by April or May, he said.
The state will also plan to have vaccination centers in minority communities, the governor added. State leaders want to avoid making the same mistakes as earlier in the pandemic, when the state failed to provide COVID-19 testing centers in minority areas, he said.
New COVID-19 cases
The state now estimates there are 54,379 active cases of COVID-19 in Utah. The rolling seven-day average number of positive COVID-19 cases per day is now at 3,051, according to the health department. The positive test rate per day for that time period is now 32.7%.
There are 543 COVID-19 patients currently hospitalized in Utah including 196 in intensive care, state data shows. Just under 90% of all Utah intensive care unit beds were filled as of Friday, including about 92% of ICU beds in the state's 16 referral hospitals, according to the health department. About 56% of non-ICU hospital beds are occupied.
Friday's new numbers indicate a 1.3% increase in positive cases since Thursday. Of the 1,803,225 people tested for COVID-19 in Utah so far, 16.7% have tested positive for the disease. The number of tests conducted increased by 17,997 as of Friday, and 13,036 of those tests were of people who had not been tested previously for COVID-19, health department data shows.
The 22 deaths reported Friday were:
- A Davis County woman who was between the ages of 65 and 84 and was hospitalized when she died
- A Davis County man who was over the age of 85 and was a resident of a long-term care facility
- A Davis County man who was between the ages of 25 and 44 and was hospitalized when he died
- A Davis County man who was between the ages of 45 and 64 and was hospitalized when he died
- Two Salt Lake County men who were over the age of 85 and were not hospitalized when they died
- Three Salt Lake County women who were between the ages of 65 and 84 and were hospitalized when they died
- A Salt Lake County woman who was over the age of 85 and was not hospitalized when she died
- A Salt Lake County man who was between the ages of 65 and 84 and was hospitalized when he died
- A Salt Lake County man who was between the ages of 65 and 84 and was a resident of a long-term care facility
- A Salt Lake County woman who was between the ages of 45 and 64 and was hospitalized when she died
- A Salt Lake County woman who was over the age of 85 and was hospitalized when she died
- A Salt Lake County man who was over the age of 85 and was a resident of a long-term care facility
- A San Juan County woman who was between the ages of 25 and 44 and was not hospitalized when she died
- A Utah County man who was between the ages of 65 and 84 and was a resident of a long-term care facility
- A Utah County man who was between the ages of 65 and 84 and was hospitalized when he died
- A Utah County woman who was between the ages of 65 and 84 and was hospitalized when she died
- A Washington County man who was between the ages of 65 and 84 and was hospitalized when he died
- A Washington County man who was between the ages of 45 and 64 and was hospitalized when he died
- A Weber County man who was between the ages of 45 and 64 and was not hospitalized when he died
Six of the deaths reported Friday occurred before Dec. 21, according to the health department.
Friday's totals give Utah 301,110 confirmed cases, with 11,679 total hospitalizations and 1,381 total deaths from the disease. An estimated 244,990 Utah COVID-19 cases are now considered recovered, according to the health department.
Cox and Dunn urged people to continue wearing masks, socially distancing and practicing other measures that will help stop the spread of COVID-19. It can be frustrating to have to continue doing those things knowing that we're so close to the end of the pandemic, Cox said, but he urged people to keep doing what has been proven to stop the spread of the disease.
"We know how to do this. There are no more secrets," he said.
The new governor was optimistic that 2021 will be brighter than last year as the end of the pandemic is in sight.
"It is indeed going to be a bright and happy new year," Cox said.
Test results now include data from PCR tests and antigen tests. Positive COVID-19 test results are reported to the health department immediately after they are confirmed, but negative test results may not be reported for 24 to 72 hours.
The total number of cases reported by the Utah Department of Health each day includes all cases of COVID-19 since Utah's outbreak began, including those who are currently infected, those who have recovered from the disease, and those who have died.
Recovered cases are defined as anyone who was diagnosed with COVID-19 three or more weeks ago and has not died.
Referral hospitals are the 16 Utah hospitals with the capability to provide the best COVID-19 health care.
Deaths reported by the state typically occurred two to seven days prior to when they are reported, according to the health department. Some deaths may be from even further back, especially if the person is from Utah but has died in another state.
The health department reports both confirmed and probable COVID-19 case deaths per the case definition outlined by the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists. The death counts are subject to change as case investigations are completed.
For deaths that are reported as COVID-19 deaths, the person would not have died if they did not have COVID-19, according to the health department.
Data included in this story primarily reflects the state of Utah as a whole. For more localized data, visit your local health district's website.
More information about Utah's health guidance levels is available at coronavirus.utah.gov/utah-health-guidance-levels.
Information is from the Utah Department of Health and coronavirus.utah.gov/case-counts. For more information on how the Utah Department of Health compiles and reports COVID-19 data, visit coronavirus.utah.gov/case-counts and scroll down to the "Data Notes" section at the bottom of the page.