SALT LAKE CITY — First lady Jill Biden will celebrate Cinco de Mayo in Salt Lake City on Wednesday by thanking front-line workers at a west side middle school and encouraging Utahns, especially the Hispanic community, to get the COVID-19 vaccination.
"This is a tour for appreciation and gratitude," said Scott Howell, a former Democratic Utah Senate leader and surrogate for President Joe Biden.
Jill Biden plans to visit Glendale Middle School where she will thank health care workers, teachers, custodians, lunch workers, information technology workers and others for their diligence and hard work during the pandemic, Howell said.
Wednesday is an online learning day for students at Glendale, so she won't see them in their regular classrooms. But there will be some students on hand.
"She'll get to see some after-school clubs and she'll get to meet with some of the students who participate in some of those activities," Yándary Chatwin, the district's communications director, told KSL Newsradio.
After the school visit, Biden will go to Jordan Park where Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County and Comunidades Unidas will host a pop-up vaccination clinic for Latino residents.
Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, who helped organize the event, said the goal is to vaccinate 100 to 200 people who have made appointments through Comunidades Unidas, though walk-ups won't be turned away.
When national political figures come to Utah, they rarely venture out to Salt Lake City's west side, she said.
"I'm just excited that she's going to visit the neighborhood," said Romero, whose Utah House district includes the park and the school.
Biden's visit, she said, is focused on people.
"For me, this is a message from the first lady that she cares about everybody and that she wants to ensure that everyone has a voice," Romero said. "It's not about meeting with elected officials. It's about getting to know people who have been on the front line during COVID, whether it's a community health worker or whether it's a teacher."
"It really is to encourage Hispanics to get vaccinated as well as every other individual in our state," Howell said.
Minority communities across the country and in Utah are lagging behind in getting the vaccine.
In Utah, 20.3% of the state's Hispanic or Latino and 14.1% of the Black populations are fully vaccinated, according to the Utah Department of Health. Just under 50% of white Utahns are fully vaccinated.
Republican Utah Gov. Spencer Cox and first lady Abby Cox are scheduled to greet Biden at the airport. Abby Cox will travel with her to the school.
Biden has visited Utah several times, including in January 2020 to meet with Democratic donors during her husband's presidential campaign.
Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jeff Merchant said Biden was excited to return to Utah after the visit last year.
For me, this is a message from the first lady that she cares about everybody and that she wants to ensure that everyone has a voice. It's not about meeting with elected officials. It's about getting to know people who have been on the front line during COVID, whether it's a community health worker or whether it's a teacher.
–Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City
"She and the president remain focused on getting the country healthy again," he said.
In 2012, Jill Biden visited with about 100 family members of troops serving abroad as well as some recently returned airmen and soldiers at the Utah Air National Guard Base while then-Vice President Biden headlined a reelection fundraiser for President Barack Obama in Park City. She spent more than an hour greeting men, women and children individually, offering hugs, posing for photographs and signing autographs.
As second lady, she focused on advocating for community colleges, military families and the education of women and girls around the world.
Now as first lady, Biden continues to work for education, military families and fighting cancer.
Howell said politics will be set aside for Biden's trip to Utah.
Chris Karpowitz, co-director of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University, said he doesn't see any large political signal in the first lady's visit. More than anything, he said, it seems like a natural stop given she has recently been to New Mexico and Arizona and will be in Nevada and Colorado on this swing.
"The fact that she is stopping in Utah and not skipping the state highlights Utah's importance to the West as a region," Karpowitz said. "But beyond the choice to visit, it gives the first lady an opportunity to emphasize both a commitment to education and the importance of vaccination."
Both, he said, are key elements of Biden administration efforts like the American Rescue Plan and the American Families Plan.