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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Gov. Spencer Cox says he's becoming more optimistic about COVID-19 vaccines as the weeks go by.
The state will now receive an increased allocation of the Moderna vaccine, bringing the total number of vaccines shipped to Utah each week to 40,000, including both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, according to the governor. Previously, the state was receiving about 33,000 doses per week.
Additionally, state leaders anticipate that the number of vaccines shipped to the state could reach 100,000 per week by March or April, Cox said. Federal approval of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is expected in February, and AstraZeneca is also preparing to submit its vaccine for approval.
Approval of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is expected to allow Utah to significantly ramp up vaccinations, especially among people who have comorbidities, Cox said. He anticipates making an announcement next week about which comorbidities will make people vaccine-eligible.
While it would take months to vaccinate every Utahn with a rate of 100,000 doses per week, it's a still big improvement, the governor said.
"I'm more optimistic now than I was even a week ago," Cox said Thursday.
On Thursday, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson and Utah Department of Health state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn provided a COVID-19 pandemic update at a news conference. Watch the replay of the news conference below.
Vaccine demand still outpaces supply
Out of nearly 400,000 vaccine doses shipped to Utah so far, only 95 have been discarded or thrown away, Cox said Thursday.
A state audit of vaccines revealed 95 doses were not used, mostly due to vials or syringes that were damaged in transit, the governor said.
There have been reports from other states that large amounts of vaccine doses are being thrown out due to regulations on how they need to be used, but there's no evidence of that happening in Utah, Cox added. While health departments and facilities that administer vaccines are required to use the doses within seven days of when they were delivered, doses older than seven days are being reallocated, not wasted, the governor said.
The demand for the vaccine is still greater than the supply in Utah, state leaders said. Currently, healthcare workers, first responders, K-12 teachers and staff, and anyone over the age of 70 is eligible to get a vaccine in Utah.
Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson said she completed her tour of all 13 local health districts in Utah last week. They have all been instructed to keep lists of people who want the vaccine but haven't been able to book an appointment, Henderson said. They've also been asked to keep a standby list of vaccine-eligible people who would be able to receive a vaccine at the end of a day so that any extra doses not used that day would not go to waste, Henderson added.
While state leaders acknowledge that securing an appointment for a vaccine has been difficult in some areas, the lists are being put in place to streamline the process and get as many vaccines into arms as possible, the lieutenant governor said. The visits to the health districts were "very eye-opening" and a great experience, she added.
"I cannot stress enough the tremendous work that these local health workers are engaging in," Henderson said.
While the demand still outpaces the supply for vaccines in Utah, state leaders are hoping that will change soon, she added.
"We encourage everyone to continue to be patient," Henderson said.
New COVID-19 cases
Utah's number of COVID-19 cases increased by 1,761 on Thursday, with no more deaths reported, according to the Utah Department of Health.
The health department didn't report any deaths Thursday due to a data transmission error, the agency clarified in a tweet Thursday afternoon. Deaths that would have been reported Thursday will be added to Friday's COVID-19 statistics report, the health department said.
In today's #COVID19 case count update, zero new deaths were reported. This was due to a data transmission error. Deaths that would have been reported today will be added to tomorrow's case count report.— Utah Dept. of Health (@UtahDepOfHealth) January 28, 2021
The rolling seven-day average number of positive cases per day is now at 1,710, according to the health department. The positive test rate per day for that time period is now 18.3%.
The health department estimates there are now 43,187 active COVID-19 cases in Utah.
Additionally, the seven-day rolling averages for new COVID-19 cases and positive test results have also decreased from last week, health department state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn said Thursday.
"All of these key indicators are definitely trending in the right direction," she said.
Though Utah has seen those promising trends to start off the new year, Dunn urged people to continue doing what they're doing to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Utahns are being vaccinated but there are not enough people vaccinated yet for herd immunity, so people need to continue taking preventative measures to stop the spread, Dunn added. That means continuing to wear masks, socially distance, stay home when sick, and practice good hygiene, she said.
People are also urged to upgrade their masks from cloth to medical-grade face coverings if possible, Cox said. Utah leaders are working with President Joe Biden's administration to potentially acquire more of those types of masks to distribute to Utahns, Cox said.
"The right quality mask protects the user," the governor said.
Thursday's new numbers indicate a 0.5% increase in positive cases since Wednesday. Of the 2,000,023 people tested for COVID-19 in Utah so far, 17.1% have tested positive for the disease. The number of total tests conducted increased by 18,134 as of Thursday, and 10,917 of those were tests of people who had not previously been tested for COVID-19, according to state data.
There are 444 COVID-19 patients currently hospitalized in Utah, including 157 in intensive care, state data shows. About 84% of Utah's ICU beds are occupied Thursday, including about 89% of ICU beds in the state's 16 referral hospitals. About 56% of Utah's non-ICU hospital beds are occupied, according to the health department.
A total of 267,027 vaccines have been administered in the state, up from 250,448 Wednesday. Of those, 43,089 are second doses, state data shows.
Thursday's totals give Utah 342,445 total confirmed cases, with 13,279 total hospitalizations and 1,620 total deaths from the disease. A total of 297,638 Utah COVID-19 cases are now considered recovered, according to the health department.
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.