SALT LAKE CITY — Though there have been some growing pains in Utah's aggressive effort to accelerate the administration of the COVID-19 vaccine, the state has doubled the amount of vaccines distributed in the last week.
A total of 133,202 vaccines have been administered in the state, up from about 68,000 last week and an increase of 8,318 from Wednesday.
Right now, the vaccine is open to first responders and health care workers; staff and residents at Utah's long-term care facilities; and K-12 teachers and staff. On Monday, all Utahns age 70 and older will begin receiving doses.
"We can't wait to be able to expand that to larger populations and other groups," Utah Gov. Spencer Cox said at a Thursday news conference.
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox spoke at a news conference Thursday morning. Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, Utah Department of Health state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn and Governor's Office of Economic Development executive director Dan Hemmert also spoke at the event.
Watch the replay of the news conference below.
State working to remove barriers to vaccine administration
After Cox introduced a number of new requirements last week for health districts and facilities that administer vaccines, the state is still ironing out the kinks. Utah has been allocated about 33,000 vaccines per week from the federal government, according to the governor.
An executive order enacted by Cox last week requires health districts to use up their entire weekly vaccine allocation, or their extra doses will be used somewhere else and their allocation may be reduced. Facilities that administer the vaccines also must report how many vaccines they administered within the previous 24 hours by 7 a.m. each day.
But health districts have had some hiccups in carrying out those new requirements. Some districts don't have the personnel, technology or financial resources to make Cox's order a reality, according to Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson.
Salt Lake County struggled with its rollout Wednesday as people aged 70 and older who were attempting to make appointments to get vaccinated experienced problems with the county's sign-up website. Later Wednesday evening, some people who signed up for an appointment got a false cancellation notice — though no appointments were actually canceled.
Henderson began visiting each of Utah's health districts this week to help them with their vaccine administration rollout. So far, she has visited Blanding, Vernal, Logan, Richfield and Cedar City.
One district, which Henderson declined to name, resorted to having nurses themselves input vaccine data at the end of the day so the district could meet the 7 a.m. daily deadline for reporting vaccine numbers to the state, she said.
That's a personnel issue that the state will seek to fix, Henderson said. Nurses, who have a specialized skill set, need to focus on administering the vaccine, she said. They shouldn't be tasked with entering data; the state should be able to provide health districts with personnel for that, Henderson added. State officials have previously noted that as Utah's hospitals have become more overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases, there has been a high rate of burnout among healthcare workers.
Cox also said health districts aren't used to having unlimited resources. Rural districts, especially, are hesitant to spend extra money for additional resources, such as spending to rent out a space to serve as a vaccine administration clinic. Districts have been told not to hesitate or wait for things like that, but instead to spend the money and send the bill to the state, the governor said.
Cox pointed out that despite those initial hiccups, health districts have been administering vaccines at a pace that has allowed the number of vaccine doses administered in the state to double over the past week.
"We feel much better today than we did two weeks ago," he said.
Even though Salt Lake County's rollout started out rough, the county made more than 30,000 vaccination appointments for people 70 and older — using up its entire allocation for that population through the end of February, Cox said.
Henderson also praised the work of the state's 13 health districts.
"Our health departments are just doing incredible work. Their efforts are huge," she said.
New COVID-19 cases
The health department now estimates there are 55,371 active COVID-19 cases in Utah. The rolling seven-day average number of positive cases per day is now at 2,575, according to the health department. The positive test rate per day for that time period is now 26%, down from 32.7% last week, according to state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn.
Dunn said the state is no longer seeing holiday-related increased case counts after the Christmas period.
"It's so promising," she said. "We need to keep slowing the spread of COVID."
She noted that hospitals are still overwhelmed, so people need to continue socially distancing, wearing masks and practicing good hygiene to stop the spread.
Thursday's new case numbers indicate a 0.9% increase in positive cases since Wednesday. Of the 1,871,616 people tested for COVID-19 in Utah so far, 17% have tested positive for COVID-19. The total number of tests conducted increased by 18,155 as of Thursday, and 16,231 of those were tests of people who had not previously been tested for COVID-19.
Cox and Dunn acknowledged that the state's efforts to increase testing, which were announced as early as last August, haven't gone to plan so far. They blamed the federal government for failing to deliver promised testing units and a slower development process for antigen rapid testing than was anticipated.
However, the state has been able to finally increase testing in a major way over the past several weeks, Dunn said. Thirty-three communities in Utah have been flooded with rapid-testing units, and the state has been able to test thousands of people in those communities as a result.
"This effort has definitely decreased spread," Dunn said.
There are 559 COVID-19 patients currently hospitalized in Utah, including 194 in intensive care, state data shows. About 94% of all intensive care unit beds in Utah are filled as of Thursday, including 97% of ICU beds in the state's 16 referral hospitals. About 54% of Utah's non-ICU hospital beds are occupied Thursday, according to the health department.
The 11 deaths reported Thursday include:
- A Davis County man who was between the ages of 45 and 64 and was hospitalized when he died
- A Kane County man who was between the ages of 65 and 84 and was hospitalized when he died
- An Iron County man who was between the ages of 65 and 84 and was hospitalized when he died
- A Utah County man who was over the age of 85 and was hospitalized when he 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 Washington County man who was between the ages of 65 and 84 and was hospitalized when he died
- Two Weber County men who were between the ages of 65 and 84 and were hospitalized when they died
- A Salt Lake County woman who was between the ages of 65 and 84 and was not hospitalized when she died
- A Salt Lake County woman who was between the ages of 65 and 84 and was hospitalized when she died
- A Washington County woman who was between the ages of 65 and 84 and was hospitalized when she died
Thursday's totals give Utah 317,559 total confirmed cases, with 12,249 total hospitalizations and 1,460 total deaths from the disease. A total of 260,728 Utah COVID-19 cases are now estimated to be recovered, according to the health department.
New round of PPP funding available
Utah small businesses that have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic now have the opportunity to apply for a new round of Paycheck Protection Program through the federal government.
Businesses that have as few as one employee can apply and be eligible for funding, even if they received money from a previous round of PPP allocations earlier in the pandemic, according to Governor's Office of Economic Development executive director Dan Hemmert. All small businesses are encouraged to apply, he said.
If businesses have a financial partner, those partners can assist with the application process, Hemmert said. The state's website also can provide more information about applying via coronavirus.utah.gov/business.
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.