SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Gov. Spencer Cox announced Thursday that eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine will be expanded to Utahns age 50 and up, as well as state residents with more underlying health conditions, starting on Monday.
In addition to Utahns age 50 and up, those residents who have type 1 or 2 diabetes, a body mass index above 30, or chronic kidney disease will also be eligible for the vaccine. People in those groups — about 700,000 Utahns — can start making vaccination appointments Monday, Cox said.
"This is a huge addition to eligibility," Cox said.
With the latest eligibility expansion taking effect Monday, all Utahns ages 50 and older will be able to get vaccines, as well as all front-line health care workers, first responders, K-12 school teachers and staff, and long-term care facility residents and staff. Utahns ages 16 and up who have certain underlying health conditions are also eligible for the vaccine.
Full details about vaccine eligibility are available at coronavirus.utah.gov/vaccine.
The first doses of the newly approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine were set to be administered in Utah on Thursday, Cox said. It is the third vaccine to be approved by the federal government for use in the United States, along with vaccines manufactured by Pfizer and Moderna.
About 125,000 doses of the vaccines were administered over the past week in Utah — the largest administered in a single week so far in the state, Cox said. About 75% of people age 70 and over have had at least one vaccine dose, and about 52% of the 65-69 age group have now received at least one dose, the governor added.
Utah surveys indicate that about 78% of state residents are willing to get the vaccine, Cox said. It's estimated that anywhere from 60-80% of a population must be vaccinated against COVID-19 to achieve herd immunity, health officials say.
Cox estimated Thursday that every Utah adult who wants a vaccine will be able to get one in April.
"We must continue to take this disease seriously," Cox said. "I'm going to keep focusing on getting our people vaccinated."
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox provided a COVID-19 pandemic update at a news conference Thursday morning. Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson and Utah Department of Health state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn also spoke at the event.
Watch the replay of the news conference below.
Salt Lake, Davis counties accelerating vaccine eligibility
Though Cox announced the expanded eligibility to Utahns 50 and over would take effect statewide on Monday, Salt Lake and Davis counties accelerated that expansion.
Starting immediately, people age 50 and over and those who have the health conditions Cox included can now make appointments in Salt Lake and Davis counties.
Counties shifting transmission levels
After spending months at Utah's highest restriction level for COVID-19, Salt Lake and Davis counties will move to the moderate transmission level Thursday, the governor announced.
Cache, Grand, Sanpete and Wasatch counties also shifted from the high transmission level to moderate Thursday. Some of those counties have been rated at the high transmission level since the state began using the transmission index system last fall.
Eleven counties remain in the high transmission level: Beaver, Carbon, Emery, Garfield, Iron, Kane, Sevier, Summit, Tooele, Uintah and Utah, according to the Utah Department of Health. Box Elder, Duchesne, Juab, Morgan, San Juan, Washington and Weber counties are also in the moderate transmission level, while Daggett, Millard, Piute, Rich and Wayne counties are at the low level.
For counties moving down to the moderate level, restrictions will be loosened as infection rates have continued trending downward statewide over the past month.
"We can start to open things up in a big big way, and that's great news for our economy," Cox said.
For counties in the moderate transmission level, social gatherings are no longer limited to a certain number of people as long as all people at the gathering are wearing masks, though the state still recommends gatherings be limited to 25 people or fewer. Masks are still required for public indoor settings, and for outdoor settings when social distancing isn't possible.
For restaurants in moderate transmission level counties, 6-foot distancing is still required between parties in waiting areas. Masks are required for patrons of restaurants unless they are actively eating or drinking. In bars, customers must wear masks if they are within 6 feet of another party, and must wear them unless eating or drinking.
"Today's announcements are encouraging & reflect how far we've come in our work to diminish this virus," Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said in a tweet. "We've seen a tremendous decline in cases. With increased vaccination rollout & targeted focus on hardest-hit communities, our metrics now show the data we need to see to shift."
More information about restrictions in all three transmission index levels is available at coronavirus.utah.gov/utah-health-guidance-levels.
New COVID-19 cases
Utah's number of COVID-19 cases increased by 611 on Thursday, with 12 more deaths and nearly 26,000 more vaccinations reported, according to the Utah Department of Health. Seven of the deaths occurred before Feb. 11 but were still being investigated by the state medical examiner's office, according to the health department.
There are an estimated 15,077 active cases of COVID-19 in Utah, according to the health department.
The rolling seven-day average number of positive cases per day is now at 558, the health department reported. That's down from 723 last week, health department state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn said.
The positive test rate per day for that time period reported with the "people over people" method is now 10%, down from 12.8% last week, Dunn added. The positive test rate per day seven-day average calculated with the "test over test" method is now 4.8%; it was 5.7% last week.
Thursday marked the first time Utah's rolling "people over people" test rate was reported at 10% or lower since Sept. 7, when it was reported at 9.7%, according to the health department's data. A huge spike in Utah COVID-19 cases followed after, continuing through the rest of 2020 before cases started trending downward in the new year.
There are 203 COVID-19 patients currently hospitalized in Utah, including 87 in intensive care, state data shows. About 70% of all intensive care unit beds in Utah are now occupied, including 74% of beds in the state's 16 referral hospitals, state data shows. About 53% of non-ICU hospital beds in Utah are occupied.
A total of 785,523 vaccines have been administered in the state, up from 741,297 Wednesday. A total of 277,717 people have now been fully vaccinated, while 507,954 have received at least one dose. A total of 978,570 vaccine doses have now been delivered to Utah, health department data indicates.
The state's coronavirus data dashboard previously broke down the vaccination totals between first and second doses. However, since the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a single-dose vaccine, while the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses, the state's dashboard now shows the number of people who have received one vaccine dose, and the number of people who have been fully vaccinated.
Dunn reiterated Thursday that all three vaccines are safe and effective despite the differences in the ways they're administered.
"The best vaccine for you is the one you can get first, regardless of the manufacturer," she said.
The new numbers indicate a 0.2% increase in positive cases since Wednesday. Of the 2,230,041 people tested for COVID-19 in Utah so far, 16.7% have tested positive for COVID-19. The total number of tests conducted since the beginning of the pandemic is now up to 3,867,952, up 18,363 from Wednesday. Of those, 7,286 were tests of people who had not been previously tested for COVID-19, according to the health department.
The 12 deaths reported Thursday include:
- A Box Elder County man who was between the ages of 65 and 84 and was hospitalized when he died
- A Davis County man who was over the age of 85 and was a resident of a long-term care facility
- 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 Utah County man who was between the ages of 65 and 84 and was hospitalized when he died
- Two Utah County men who were over the age of 85 and were not hospitalized when they died
- Two Utah County men who were over the age of 85 and were residents of long-term care facilities
- A Weber County man who was between the ages of 65 and 84 and was hospitalized when he died
- A Weber 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 65 and 84 and was hospitalized when she died
Two deaths that were reported Feb. 23 as a Cache County woman and a Davis County man have been removed from Utah's COVID-19 deaths total after further review from medical examiners, according to the health department.
Thursday's totals give Utah 373,319 total confirmed cases, with 14,816 total hospitalizations and 1,965 total deaths from the disease.
New vaccination roadmap announced
Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson on Thursday announced a new vaccine distribution roadmap that outlines how the state will get the vaccine to those in more hard-to-reach populations and communities.
The health department has gathered stakeholders from those communities to make sure that everyone has access to the vaccine and the opportunity to be vaccinated. So far, the state has spent about $1 million on translating COVID-19 information into other languages.
The state hopes to build an inclusive vaccination strategy that ensures vaccination rates match Utah's population, and to make sure the vaccine reaches racially, ethnically and linguistically diverse populations.
"It really does take a whole community to reach out to the whole community," Henderson said.
The plan is available in full at coronavirus.utah.gov.
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.