SALT LAKE CITY — Utahns aged 65 and older will be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine next month, Gov. Spencer Cox announced Thursday.
On March 1, eligibility for the vaccine will be expanded to Utahns age 65 and over. Utahns who have certain comorbidities — but not all comorbidities — will also be eligible for the vaccine starting March 1, Cox said.
Utah's weekly allocation of the vaccine could potentially quadruple by March if two other pharmaceutical companies are able to distribute their vaccines by that time, Cox said. The state's allocation is about 50,000 this week, already up significantly from around 33,000 last week, according to Cox.
He pointed out that this week marks an important milestone in Utah's virus site: The total number of vaccine doses administered has outpaced the number of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic. There have now been 362,701 shots between first and second doses of the vaccine, compared to 351,273 total COVID-19 cases since Utah's pandemic started early last year.
"We are trying to be more viral than the virus, and it's happening," Cox said.
All the information about the eligibility expansion is available on coronavirus.utah.gov/vaccine-distribution.
Cox stressed Thursday is merely an announcement about the eligibility expansion — those people will not be able to make appointments to get the vaccine yet, and they should not contact their local health department, he added.
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, along with Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson and Utah Department of Health state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn provided a COVID-19 pandemic update at a news conference Thursday morning. Watch the replay of the event below.
Vaccine eligibility expanding
Currently, all Utahns age 70 and older are eligible to get the vaccine. About 84,000 people in that category have been vaccinated so far, which accounts for about 35% of that age group, Cox said.
The governor said he expects it will take two or three more weeks to vaccinate the remaining people age 70 and over who want the vaccine, which is a total of about 240,000 people.
The federal government recently increased Utah's weekly vaccine allocation to about 40,000, and it was increased again about 5% this week, Cox said. Additionally, the state government recovered thousands of doses from the federal government's pharmacy partners, which have been tasked with vaccinating staff and residents at long-term care facilities. The pharmacies had an excess of the vaccine, so the state recovered some doses and redistributed them for use.
The federal government is also shipping additional equipment with each round of the Pfizer vaccine, so that vaccine administrators can extract a sixth dose out of every vial of the vaccine, Cox said.
All those changes meant that about 50,000 doses of the vaccine were delivered to Utah this week. Small increases to the allocation are expected each week, Cox said.
"Every week our numbers go up significantly, and that's the great work of our local health departments," Cox said.
With further production promises from Pfizer and Moderna, which are currently manufacturing the vaccine, as well as vaccines from Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca, which have yet to be approved by federal regulators, Utah's vaccine allocation could expand massively later this spring, Cox said.
That means that Utah potentially could receive 150,000 to 200,000 doses by March or April, Cox said.
"(That) just changes the ballgame for all of us," he said.
Cox estimated that the expanded eligibility will amount to about 400,000 additional people having access to the vaccine. If Utah's allocation is upped to 150,000 or 200,000 by the first week of March, it would take several weeks to get through that population, at which point vaccine eligibility would be opened up to more populations, starting with the most at-risk and vulnerable people in the state, the governor added.
Additionally, some Smith's and Walmart pharmacies will begin offering vaccination appointments starting Feb. 11, according to Lt. Gov. Diedre Henderson. State leaders hope that if people already have an appointment with their local health department to get a vaccine, they will keep that appointment instead of making a new one at a Smith's or Walmart, Henderson said.
As the state prepares for rapid expansions in vaccine distribution, a call for volunteers is expected in the coming weeks, Henderson said. People will be needed to help with vaccine administration, as well as managing traffic at vaccine centers and other tasks, she said.
There will likely be some difficulties with scheduling vaccine appointments as the state expands distribution, so Utahns are asked to be patient, Cox and Henderson said.
"We are going to do something incredible here, but it's not going to be easy," Henderson said. "Please keep watch because we're going to need you."
New COVID-19 cases
Utah's number of COVID-19 cases increased by 1,273 on Thursday, with 14 more deaths reported, according to the Utah Department of Health. Three of those deaths occurred before Jan. 14 but were still being investigated by the Utah state medical examiner's office.
The health department now estimates that there are 33,948 active cases of the disease in Utah. The rolling seven-day average number of positive cases per day is now at 1,264, according to the health department. The positive test rate per day for that time period is now 16.5%.
Health department state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn pointed out Thursday that the seven-day averages have gone down since last week, as they have for the last several weeks. It's promising to see those numbers trending down, she added.
"We still have work ahead of us, but we're headed in the right direction," Dunn said.
Utahns are encouraged to continue wearing masks and socially distancing, as variants of the COVID-19 virus are present in the state, she said.
There are 365 COVID-19 patients currently hospitalized in Utah, including 125 in intensive care, state data shows. About 76% of Utah's intensive care unit beds are occupied Thursday, including about 78% of ICU beds in the state's 16 referral hospitals. About 57% of non-ICU hospital beds are also filled, health department data shows.
A total of 362,701 vaccines have been administered in the state, up from 345,179 Wednesday. Of those, 84,154 are second doses of the vaccine, according to health department data.
The new numbers indicate a 0.4% increase in positive cases since Wednesday. Of the 2,054,230 people tested for COVID-19 in Utah so far, 17.1% have tested positive the disease. The total number of tests conducted increased by 13,702 as of Thursday, and 9,419 of those were tests of people who had not previously been tested for COVID-19, according to the health department.
The 14 deaths reported Thursday are:
- A Box Elder County man who was between the ages of 65 and 84 and was hospitalized when he died
- A Box Elder County man who was between the ages of 65 and 84 and was a resident of a long-term care facility
- A Davis County man who was between the ages of 65 and 84 and was hospitalized when he died
- Two Salt Lake County men who were between the ages of 45 and 64 and were hospitalized when they 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 not hospitalized when he died
- A Utah 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 65 and 84 and was hospitalized when he died
- A Salt Lake County woman 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 over the age of 85 and was a resident of a long-term care facility
- A Weber County woman who was between the ages of 45 and 64 and was a resident of a long-term care facility
- A Weber County woman who was between the ages of 65 and 84 and was a resident of a long-term care facility
- A Weber County woman who was over the age of 85 and was a resident of a long-term care facility
Thursday's totals give Utah 351,273 total confirmed cases, with 13,697 total hospitalizations and 1,711 total deaths from the disease. A total of 315,614 Utah COVID-19 cases are now estimated to be 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.