SALT LAKE CITY — State leaders thanked Utah Department of Health state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn Thursday as she made her final appearance at Utah's weekly COVID-19 news conference ahead of leaving the agency this summer.
Dunn, who has become a household name in Utah during the pandemic, is leaving the state health department to become the executive director of the Salt Lake County Health Department later this summer. Her first day in her new role will be June 1.
Dunn has been a consistent presence throughout the pandemic at the state's weekly briefings, where she has explained the latest COVID-19 information under the administrations of both current Utah Gov. Spencer Cox and former Gov. Gary Herbert.
Cox wore an "I Love Dr. Dunn" T-shirt at Thursday's news conference to commemorate the occasion. He thanked the epidemiologist for her work over the past 14 months to protect Utahns from COVID-19.
"I just want (Dunn) to know how grateful we are for everything that she has done over the past year. We've been so fortunate to have her leadership and her guidance," Cox said. "She'll do a tremendous job (in Salt Lake County). You're getting one of the best."
Lt. Gov Deidre Henderson lamented that she didn't have a shirt like Cox's, but she echoed the governor's words of gratitude.
"She has saved lives," Henderson said of Dunn. "The work she has done for our state has saved many lives."
Dunn added her own message of thanks Thursday.
"Thank you," she said. "Thank you to the state of Utah, to my Utah Department of Health family, of course the media, and all the Utahns out there who have been such a great support over the past 14 months."
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox provided a COVID-19 pandemic update at his weekly 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.
Vaccine equity improving
The state's efforts to close the vaccine equity gap are continuing to improve, Henderson said Thursday.
The state has received over 200 requests from organizations who want to host their own mobile vaccine clinics, Henderson said. Those clinics accounted for about 27,000 vaccine doses over the past week since the state began the initiative, she added.
"That's something that we're really excited about," Henderson said.
Mass vaccination sites will continue to be available, but the state is shifting toward a model where vaccines are being brought to the people, instead of people coming to the vaccines, she said. Health officials are focusing on people who want to get vaccinated but haven't been able to yet, Henderson added.
About 41% of Asian Utahns have now received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to state data. About 34% of Hispanic Utahns, 23% of Black Utahns and 23% of Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander Utahns have received at least a first dose. However, about 51% of white Utahns have received at least one dose, so there is still some ground to be made up.
Additionally, about 87% of Utahns age 65 and older have now received at least one dose, and 76% of that age group are now fully vaccinated, Henderson said.
"We are just so incredibly grateful for that," she said.
A new texting resources is now available to find vaccine appointments via a text message. Utahns can text their ZIP code to GetVax (438-829) and receive a reply with three vaccination locations in your area. Spanish speakers can text their ZIP code to "vacuna" (822-862) to receive information on three vaccination locations in their area.
Pfizer vaccine expected to open to 12-15 age group next week
The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is expected to get approval from federal regulators for use in the 12-15 age group early next week, Dunn said.
She predicted that COVID-19 cases will plummet when Utahns in that age group are able to be vaccinated. The 12-15 age group is contributing to the current spread of COVID-19 in Utah, and vaccinating them should slow that down significantly, Dunn said.
She encouraged parents to make a vaccination appointment for their children as soon as the vaccine eligibility opens up.
"This is the most important next step we can do as a state to end this pandemic," Dunn said.
Vaccinating that age group will also make extracurricular activities safer for school students, and classrooms will be safer environments for teachers, staff and students when school starts again in the fall, Dunn added.
Though most state and local health orders ended this week as required by Utah's pandemic endgame bill, HB294, school mask mandates will remain in place until June 15 or the end of the school year, whichever comes first. The state's "test to play" protocol for schools, where students must be periodically tested for COVID-19 in order to participate in extracurricular activities, also will remain in place until the end of the school year, Cox said.
New COVID-19 cases
Utah's number of COVID-19 cases increased by 395 on Thursday, with no deaths and 17,760 vaccinations reported, according to the Utah Department of Health. The state has been in a plateau for the past several weeks, but saw cases start to drop once again over the past week, Cox said.
There are now an estimated 8,053 active cases of COVID-19 in Utah. The rolling seven-day average number of positive cases per day is now at 343, according to the health department. The positive test rate per day for that time period calculated with the "people over people" method is now 6.7%. The positive test rate per day for that time period calculated with the "test over test" method is now 3.5%.
There are 142 COVID-19 patients currently hospitalized in Utah, including 58 in intensive care, state data shows. About 74% of intensive care unit beds are now occupied in Utah, including about 77% of ICU beds in the state's 16 referral hospitals. About 56% of non-ICU hospital beds are now occupied in the state.
A total of 2,242,271 vaccine doses have been administered in the state, up from 2,223,511 Wednesday. A total of 1,332,783 Utahns have now received at least a first dose of the vaccine, and 999,505 are now fully vaccinated, the health department reported. A total of 2,652,878 vaccine doses have been shipped to the state so far.
About 41.6% of all Utahns have received at least a first vaccine dose, and 31.2% are now fully vaccinated. Among Utahns age 16 and older who are currently eligible for the vaccine, about 56% have received at least one dose, and 42% are fully vaccinated, state data shows.
Thursday's new numbers indicate a 0.1% increase in positive cases since Wednesday. Of the 2,588,877 people tested for COVID-19 in Utah so far, 15.4% have tested positive for the disease. The number of total tests conducted since the pandemic began in Utah is now 4,707,400, up 13,562 since Wednesday. Of those, 6,695 were tests of people who had not previously been tested for COVID-19.
Thursday's totals give Utah 399,374 total confirmed cases, with 16,303 total hospitalizations and 2,219 total deaths from the disease. An estimated 389,102 Utah COVID-19 cases are now considered recovered, the health department reports.
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.