Estimated read time: 9-10 minutes
SPANISH FORK — After spending the first three months of his administration working hard to get shots in arms across Utah, Gov. Spencer Cox finally got his first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine Thursday morning.
Cox and First Lady Abby Cox received their first doses of the Pfizer vaccine at the Utah County Health Department vaccine center in Spanish Fork. Vaccination eligibility opened up to all Utahns over the age of 16 on Wednesday. Gov. Cox, who is 45, was not eligible until Wednesday's expansion, so he waited until Thursday to get his shot.
Before getting the vaccine dose, Cox admired the efficiency and hopefulness at the vaccination clinic.
"The energy, you can feel it here … it's a vibe, it's a thing, and it's a good thing," he said.
Prior to getting his vaccination, the governor jokingly warned members of the media in attendance about the "gun show" that was about to happen, saying that "every day is leg day" on his family's farm in Fairview, Utah. He chose a SpongeBob SquarePants bandage over Scooby-Doo, and Utah Department of Health state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn stood behind him, joking that she was ready in case he fainted.
Cox and the vaccine clinic worker who administered his shot garnered a round of applause after he got the dose.
"This is so cool, thank you for making this happen," Cox said following the vaccination.
Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, who joined Cox and Dunn in her hometown of Spanish Fork, said she was grateful that the governor and his wife would be protected from the virus.
"This is the clearest path back to normalcy for all of us," Henderson said. "We are really, really grateful for the many people who have worked so hard to make this possible."
Also Thursday, Cox discussed a Federal Emergency Management Agency program that will provide financial assistance for families paying for funerals of COVID-19 victims.
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox and First Lady Abby Cox received their first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine during a Thursday news conference at the Utah County Health Department vaccine center in Spanish Fork.
Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson and Utah Department of Health state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn also spoke at the event. Watch the full replay below.
Cox 'very optimistic' health restrictions will lift by July
Based on the amount of vaccine being shipped to Utah and the vaccination rates in the state, Cox said he was very optimistic that most, if not all, COVID-19 health restrictions in the state would be lifted by July 1.
"We're on pace for that, and we're very hopeful," he said.
He acknowledged that everything could change, but said the state is currently on the trajectory to see health restrictions lifted by the summer.
Cox signed HB294, which includes a controversial April 10 deadline for Utah's statewide mask mandate to end except in K-12 schools and gatherings of more than 50 people, into law on Wednesday.
In addition to the mask mandate deadline, the bill also requires that state and local health orders come to an end on the day that Utah meets the threshold in three key metrics:
- The state's 14-day case rate is less than 191 per 100,000 people,
- The state's seven-day average of COVID-19 intensive care unit usage is under 15%, and
- 1,633,000 prime doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been allocated to Utah.
As of Thursday, Utah has only met that threshold in one out of the three metrics: ICU usage, which averages about 10.4% over the last seven days, according to state data. Utah's 14-day case rate is 217.6 cases per 100,000 people, and 1,420,190 prime vaccine doses have been shipped to the state, according to the health department.
Cox said he thinks the state will continue trending toward being able to lift health restrictions before July. He said state leaders are less concerned with seeing case rates go down than they are with seeing hospitalizations and deaths continue decreasing.
He pointed out that coronaviruses are abundant in the community beyond the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19. If the virus is present in Utah but isn't hospitalizing or killing people, it's less of a concern, he added.
"The problem is if (the virus) puts you in the hospital and kills you and does that at an excessive rate," Cox said. "That's the problem we're dealing with, so driving those numbers down, that's really what we've been focused on."
Every Tuesday, Cox participates in a call with federal public health officials in President Joe Biden's administration, including chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci. Things can change very quickly based on what Utah leaders are told in that Tuesday call each week, Cox said. They're told how many doses of the vaccine will be shipped to Utah during that call and must plan accordingly based on what they're told, he added.
Fauci and other White House medical advisors are monitoring the COVID-19 situation in Europe, where there is currently another surge of the disease, Cox said. Fauci has said that a fourth surge of the disease is possible in the United States, but Cox said Fauci was optimistic that the U.S. will avoid a surge similar to Europe's.
Cox also said that the U.S. has higher vaccination rates than Europe, so all signs point to the promising downward trends in case rates, hospitalizations and deaths continuing.
"We're very optimistic that we'll beat those timelines," the governor said.
New COVID-19 cases
Utah's number of COVID-19 cases increased by 527 on Thursday, with seven more deaths and 26,298 vaccinations reported, according to the Utah Department of Health.
Four of the deaths occurred before March 1 but were still being investigated, the health department said.
The health department estimates there are now 10,283 active cases of COVID-19 in Utah.
The rolling seven-day average number of positive cases per day is now at 419, according to the health department. The positive test rate per day for that time period reported with the "people over people" method is now 7.6%, down from 8.4% last week, according to Dunn.
The positive test rate per day seven-day average calculated with the "test over test" method is now 3.8%, down from 4.2% last week, Dunn added.
There are 134 COVID-19 patients currently hospitalized in Utah, including 53 in intensive care, state data shows. About 69% of Utah's intensive care unit beds are now occupied, including about 73% in the state's 16 referral hospitals. About 53% of Utah's non-ICU hospital beds are now occupied, state data shows.
Hospitalizations and deaths are continuing to decrease, but at a slower rate, Dunn added. She urged people to continue wearing face coverings and practicing public health measures to make sure those keep decreasing as more people are vaccinated.
At the Spanish Fork clinic Thursday, Dunn agreed with Cox that the positivity around the clinic was palpable.
"It's filled with hope and joy," Dunn said of the clinic.
A total of 1,232,991 vaccines have been administered in the state, up from 1,206,693 Wednesday. A total of 814,765 Utahns have now received at least one dose, while 450,128 have been fully vaccinated. A total of 1,420,190 vaccine doses have been shipped to Utah so far, according to health department data.
The state has administered 152,952 doses of the vaccine over the past week, according to Henderson.
About 80% of Utahns age 65 and older have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and 57% are now fully vaccinated, Henderson said. About 83% of Utahns age 70 and older have now received one dose, while 67% are fully vaccinated, she added.
"We're grateful for the hope that this provides," Henderson said.
The lieutenant governor continues to oversee the state's efforts to improve vaccine access for underserved communities and populations in the state.
A mobile vaccination unit was able to visit the remote Box Elder County town of Park Valley, located northwest of the Great Salt Lake, earlier this week, Henderson said. In just a single day, the vaccination unit was able to provide a vaccine to every person in Park Valley who wanted one, she said.
Henderson also highlighted a vaccination clinic last week in St. George spearheaded by the Southern Utah Pacific Islander Coalition where 280 community members were vaccinated, as well as a Salt Lake County vaccination clinic set up by the Utah Muslim Civic League at a local mosque.
Mobile vaccination clinics will be expanded in the coming weeks to more congregate care settings, including substance abuse treatment facilities, group homes, behavioral health facilities, and assisted living centers, Henderson said.
Thursday's new numbers indicate a 0.1% increase in positive cases since Wednesday. Of the 2,355,874 people tested for COVID-19 in Utah so far, 16.3% have tested positive for COVID-19. The number of total tests conducted since the pandemic began is now 4,160,584, up 18,530 since Wednesday. Of those, 7,891 were tests of people who had not previously been tested for COVID-19.
Thursday's totals give Utah 383,260 total confirmed cases, with 15,379 total hospitalizations and 2,088 total deaths from the disease. A previous death of a man between the ages of 65 and 84 that was reported in Weber County on March 21 has been removed from the count after further investigation, health officials said.
The seven deaths reported Thursday were:
- A Davis 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 man who was over the age of 85 and was not hospitalized when he died
- A Salt Lake County man who was between the ages of 45 and 64 and was hospitalized when he died
- A Salt Lake County man who was between the ages of 45 and 64 and was not hospitalized when he died
- A Utah County man who was between the ages of 45 and 64 and was not hospitalized when he died
- A Utah County woman who was between the ages of 65 and 84 and was not hospitalized when she died
- A Washington County man who was between the ages of 45 and 64 and was not hospitalized when he died
A total of 370,889 Utah COVID-19 cases are now considered to be recovered, according to the health department.
Garfield, Kane and Uintah counties moved to the moderate COVID-19 transmission level under the Utah transmission index system, Cox announced Thursday.
There are now just two Utah counties in the high transmission level: Beaver and Emery. Daggett, Piute, Rich and Wayne counties are in the low transmission level. All 23 other Utah counties are in the moderate transmission level.
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.