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SALT LAKE CITY — A debate ensued Tuesday as the Salt Lake County Council discussed whether to extend the emergency proclamation originally issued early in the pandemic, with Mayor Jenny Wilson saying the county remains in a difficult spot.
"We still feel we're in an emergency," Wilson told the council.
While Utah's COVID-19 case rates continue to plateau, Wilson said the county continues to face difficulties recovering financially and drawing events to the area. The emergency proclamation allows the county to draw more federal funding for recovery efforts, she said.
"So the sooner we can get beyond COVID, the sooner we can use the funding for other purposes," the mayor added.
Councilwoman Dea Theodore expressed frustration at the ongoing state of emergency and the cost of things like billboards around the county that encourage people to get vaccinated. She said she would vote "no" to continue the proclamation, explaining that she doesn't feel comfortable saying the county remains in an emergency.
"Are we looking for everybody to be vaccinated? That's just not going to happen," Theodore said, adding that she believes COVID-19 "will be around for years."
Wilson acknowledged the coronavirus will linger in some form, "but we are concerned about variants, and our vaccinations perhaps in the future not being as effective against future variants, so that's an outlying concern," she said.
"At this particular time we've seen our cases flat but at a pretty high rate, and right now we're still seeing some pressure on our hospitals," Wilson said.
The emergency proclamation ultimately passed the council, with only Theodore voting against it.
In an update on the pandemic to the County Council, Salt Lake County Health Director Dr. Angela Dunn said hospitals remain at capacity with one-third of intensive care beds filled with COVID-19 patients.
Case counts are lower than they were at this time last year, she said, but the case rate is still at an "unsustainable" rate for health care systems.
Wilson announced a new incentive for county employees to get vaccinated for the flu and coronavirus. Employees who receive the vaccine will get $300 after showing proof of receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, as well as $100 for each vaccinated member of their household. Employees will receive $100 for proof of getting a seasonal flu vaccine.
The county will spend up to $3.5 million in one-time funds for the program, the mayor said.
New Utah data
Utah health officials confirmed 1,343 new COVID-19 cases and five new deaths on Tuesday.
School-age children accounted for 284 of those new cases — 137 cases were among those between the ages of 5 and 10, 64 cases were 11-13, and 83 cases were 14-17, according to a daily update from the Utah Department of Health.
The rolling, seven-day average for positive tests is 1,283 per day, and the average positivity rate of those tested is 15.2%. In Utah's hospitals, 523 patients were receiving care for the disease Tuesday — an increase of six since the previous day's report.
On Tuesday, the health department confirmed 453 more breakthrough cases, meaning among patients who have been fully vaccinated more than two weeks ago. The state also confirmed 34 new breakthrough hospitalizations. No additional breakthrough deaths were confirmed.
State health officials and doctors have noted receiving the vaccine does not mean someone will not contract the coronavirus, but in most cases, it is protective against serious illness. The vaccine also does not cause a person to get COVID-19.
Since vaccines became available to the public early this year, the state has confirmed 24,117 breakthrough cases of the 533,526 total positive cases since the pandemic began, or just under 5% of all cases. Utah health officials have also confirmed 1,213 breakthrough hospitalizations and 165 breakthrough deaths.
In all, there have been 3,095 deaths in Utah due to COVID-19.
Health care workers administered 8,358 new vaccine doses since the previous day's report, bringing the total vaccines given in Utah to 3,626,510.
In the last 28 days, unvaccinated residents have faced a 14.7 times greater risk of dying from COVID-19, 10.7 times greater risk of hospitalization, and 5.8 times greater risk of testing positive for COVID-19 than vaccinated people, health department officials said.
Since Feb. 1 people who are unvaccinated are at 8.9 times greater risk of dying from COVID-19, 7.5 times greater risk of being hospitalized, and 3.9 times greater risk of testing positive for COVID-19 than vaccinated people, according to the data.
The latest deaths include:
- A Davis County man, older than 85, who was not hospitalized when he died.
- A Salt Lake County man, 25-44, hospitalized.
- A Salt Lake County woman, 25-44, hospitalized.
- A Salt Lake County man, 45-64, hospitalized.
- A Washington County man, 65-84, hospitalized.