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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, always an enthusiastic Utah Jazz basketball fan, likened the state's current pandemic fight to the fourth quarter of a basketball game on Thursday.
Over the past year since the COVID-19 pandemic began, thousands of people have worked thousands of hours to fight the devastating coronavirus, Cox said. But now, vaccines are being administered at a rate that eclipsed 100,000 doses per week for the first time this week, he said.
As case numbers have been gradually declining for the past month, there has been an optimistic shift in thinking around the state, Cox said. The end is in sight and Utah leaders are hoping to finish strong, he added.
"When things are close but we can see the end and things are going well, and we have a whole bunch of Donovan Mitchells that are stepping up right now," Cox, referring to the Jazz's star guard, said at a Thursday morning news conference. "And those are our vaccine providers, those who are working so hard every single day to get vaccines in arms; and that work is starting to pay off."
Cox said there is a chance all Utah adults who want a COVID-19 vaccine will be able to get one by the end of May. But that will take a huge amount of logistical planning that involves Utah at least tripling its current vaccine administration output.
To achieve that, Cox and Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson on Thursday issued a call to action for volunteers who can help drastically increase the state's vaccine administration capacity.
"There is an enormous amount of planning that has to go into place," Cox said.
People can go to utahresponds.org and register to see volunteer opportunities. There is an immediate need for licensed medical professionals who can administer vaccines, but people without medical licenses will be needed in the coming weeks and months for other vaccine-related tasks, according to Henderson.
"We need you," she said. "We need you badly and this is the bright shining light at the end of the dark tunnel."
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 Thursday morning news conference. Watch the replay of the event below.
1,242 new COVID-19 cases, 9 deaths
Utah's number of COVID-19 cases increased by 1,242 on Thursday, with nine more deaths reported, according to the Utah Department of Health.
The health department now estimates there are 28,492 active cases of the disease in Utah.
The rolling seven-day average number of positive cases per day is now at 1,049, down from 1,264 last week, according to health department state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn. The positive test rate per day for that time period reported through the "people over people" method is now 14.8%, down from 16.5% last week, Dunn said.
The rolling seven-day positive test rate average reported via the "test over test" method is now 6.7%, according to the health department.
The "people over people" method is calculated by dividing the number of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 by the total number of people tested and has been used by the health department since the beginning of the pandemic. This week, the agency began reporting the "test over test" method — which is calculated by dividing the total number of positive tests by the total number of tests administered — in addition to the "people over people" method.
There are 327 COVID-19 patients currently hospitalized in Utah, including 128 in intensive care, state data shows. About 84% of all intensive care unit beds in Utah are filled Thursday, including about 88% of ICU beds in the state's 16 referral hospitals. About 54% of Utah's non-ICU hospital beds are occupied, according to the health department.
A total of 462,720 vaccines have been administered in the state, up from 442,476 Wednesday. Of those, 127,643 are second doses of the vaccine, according to the health department.
The new numbers indicate a 0.3% increase in positive cases since Wednesday. Of the 2,103,616 people tested for COVID-19 in Utah so far, 17% have tested positive for COVID-19. The total number of COVID-19 tests conducted since the beginning of the pandemic is now at 3,546,464 — up 24,218 from Wednesday, according to the health department. Of those, 8,807 were tests of people who had not previously been tested for COVID-19.
Thursday's totals give Utah 358,581 total confirmed cases, with 14,054 total hospitalizations and 1,774 total deaths from the disease.
As the state's case rates continue to trend in a more positive, downward direction, Dunn urged people to continue wearing masks and socially distancing.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released new research that suggests that wearing snug-fitting, multilayer masks and staying 6 feet apart can prevent up to 95% of droplets containing the coronavirus from spreading between people, according to Dunn.
Utahns should keep doing those things, especially so that new variants of the coronavirus do not spread in the state, Dunn added. If your cloth masks have only one layer, you should wear two masks that fit snugly against your face, she said.
"I'm confident that if we keep doing this as a state, we will see the numbers drop to sporadic by the fall," Dunn said.
Utah vaccine distribution progressing
The COVID-19 vaccine is now available to frontline health care workers and first responders, K-12 teachers and staff, long-term care facility staff, and residents and any Utahn age 70 and older.
Intermountain Healthcare announced on Thursday its support and preparation to expand COVID-19 vaccinations for more Utahns. In a press release, the health care organization said that it's eager to see the timetable for vaccinations to speed up and expand to different groups.
"We don't want any vaccine sitting unused, and more doses are becoming available soon, so we are supportive of accelerating the process by making vaccines available to more people," said Mark Briesacher, senior vice president and chief physician executive at Intermountain Healthcare in the statement. "Vaccination clinics for those age 70+ have started to see more unfilled appointments, so expanding eligibility is a prudent course of action."
About 89% of staff and residents at long-term care facilities have now been vaccinated, according to Cox. Additionally, over half of Utahns age 70 and older will be vaccinated with their first doses by the end of the day Thursday, the governor said. About 73% of Utah COVID-19 deaths have been in Utahns age 70 and older, so vaccinating that population should significantly reduce deaths, Cox said.
State leaders are planning to expand vaccine eligibility to Utahns ages 65 and older, as well as state residents with certain comorbidities, on March 1. The governor urged people to continue being patient.
"We know this is still moving more slowly than anyone wants," Cox said.
He added that you're eligible to receive the vaccine if you live in Utah and qualify for the criteria set forth by the state. People who are undocumented or don't have legal immigration status shouldn't hesitate to get the vaccine, he said.
The virus doesn't care about a person's race, immigration status or any other distinguishing features — it simply spreads from person to person wherever it can, Cox pointed out. Similarly, the state is aiming to spread the vaccine as much as possible.
"We need to treat the virus the way it's treating us," he said.
He urged people to sign up to receive the vaccine whenever they're able to, so that Utah can get back to normal and the pandemic will have a fairy tale ending.
"Get this vaccine because we will live happily ever after," the governor said.
9 deaths reported Thursday
The nine deaths reported Thursday include:
- A Morgan 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 man who was between the ages of 45 and 64 and was hospitalized when he died
- A Tooele County woman who was over the age of 85 and was a resident of a long-term care facility
- A Utah County woman who was over the age of 85 and was a resident of a long-term care facility
- A Utah County man who was over the age of 85 and was not hospitalized when he died
- A Washington County man who was over the age of 85 and was not hospitalized when he died
- A Weber County man who was between the ages of 65 and 84 and was not hospitalized when he died
- A Weber County man who was over the age of 85 and was a resident of a long-term care facility
- A Weber County man who was over the age of 85 and was not hospitalized when he died
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.