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SALT LAKE CITY — Intermountain Healthcare announced Wednesday it will require all of its caregivers to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
The requirement is meant "to comply with federal vaccination requirements announced by President (Joe) Biden" on Sept. 9, system officials said.
Dr. Mark Briesacher, chief physician executive, noted it's been 20 months since the first COVID-19 patient was admitted to Intermountain Medical Center. Since then, he said it's been "remarkable" to watch the caregivers at the system respond to the pandemic.
"I can't thank the nurses and physicians, and all of our health care teams and everyone who supports them at Intermountain enough for what they've done. It's been truly remarkable," Briesacher said during a news conference.
After reviewing the rules from the Biden administration, he said it "became clear that we need to comply with these rules, because this is about caring for people."
On Wednesday, the Utah Department of Health confirmed 2,068 new COVID-19 cases and 22 deaths, nine of which occurred before October. The rolling, seven-day average for positive tests is 1,618 per day, and the average positive rate of those tested is 16.9%.
Intermountain Healthcare leaders received guidance from the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force, which told them the key point of the new rules is that within facilities that work within a federal contract, everyone who works there needs to be vaccinated.
Briesacher said that's why the system decided to take a "one Intermountain" approach to it.
The system cares for patients with different forms of federal insurance, "and it really comes down to that bottom line of we're going to be there for people when they need us." Four out of every 10 of the system's patients have federal Medicare or Medicaid, he added.
Intermountain has come up with a approach focused on "listening," answering questions, and helping people through the decision-making process, according to Briesacher.
Employees can submit medical and religious exemptions "and we're going to work through those very carefully, thoughtfully, with an open mind, in a generous way to understand those concerns and honor those exemptions," Briesacher said.
He called the mandate "just the next thing for us to work on together."
Intermountain Healthcare already requires it employees to receive vaccines for hepatitis, whooping cough, the annual flu, measles, mumps and rubella.
"What these all have in common is that these are viruses and bacteria that are easily spread through a community if that community is vulnerable and not immune to them," Briesacher said.
Those who don't start the process to get vaccinated or request an exemption will be "separated" from the company, he said.
"As a health care organization, Intermountain requires immunizations because they protect us and others — patients, members, colleagues, families and communities — from illness and disease, like COVID-19. There is overwhelming evidence that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective," the newly released company policy states.
Intermountain said more than 75% of its caregivers are already fully vaccinated and up to 85% have received one dose.
"Vaccination efforts nationally, and specifically in the Intermountain West, have proven central to reducing the spread of the virus and saving lives," according to the policy.
More than 200 million people in America have been vaccinated against COVID-19, including 1.94 million in Utah who have received at least one dose, according to data from the Utah Department of Health.
Employees will have until Dec. 5 to file appropriate medical or religious exemptions, until Jan. 5 to receive their first dose of any available FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccine, and, until Feb. 9 to be fully vaccinated, according to the new mandate. Anyone who doesn't meet exception criteria will be placed on administrative leave — with "eventual separation from the company."
Intermountain Healthcare — headquartered in Utah with facilities in Idaho and Nevada — already mandates multiple vaccines for its caregivers, including annual flu shots and others. Wednesday's mandate includes all employees, including clinical and nonclinical roles, physicians, clinicians, volunteers, contract workers and students, at all Intermountain facilities in and outside of Utah, as well as remote workers.
School-age children accounted for 413 of the new cases — 204 cases were ages 5-10, 98 cases in children ages 11-13, and 111 cases were ages 14-18.
Health care workers administered 15,579 more vaccine doses since Tuesday's report, bringing total doses given in Utah to 3,705,391, the state health department said.
In the last 28 days, unvaccinated residents have faced 17.5 times greater risk of dying from COVID-19, 10.65 times greater risk of hospitalization, and 5.3 times greater risk of testing positive for COVID-19 than vaccinated people, according to health officials.
Since Feb. 1, people who are unvaccinated are at 8.9 times greater risk of dying from COVID-19, 7.4 times greater risk of hospitalization, and 3.7 times greater risk of testing positive for COVID-19 than vaccinated people, the data shows.
Of the cases reported Wednesday, 416 — or about 20% — were considered "breakthrough," meaning they were patients who had been fully vaccinated more than two weeks before testing positive. The state confirmed 19 more breakthrough hospitalizations and one breakthrough death.
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 27,303 breakthrough cases in the 546,213 total positive cases since the pandemic began, or just under 5% of all cases. Utah health officials have also confirmed 1,329 total breakthrough hospitalizations and 178 breakthrough deaths out of the 3,181 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
On Wednesday, 538 people were hospitalized with the coronavirus in Utah, an increase of 14 since the previous day.
The latest deaths include:
- A Weber County woman between the ages of 65 and 84, who was a long-term care facility resident when she died.
- A Weber County man, 65-84, not hospitalized.
- A Weber County woman, 45-64, hospitalized.
- Two Washington County men, 25-44, not hospitalized.
- A Washington County woman, 65-84, hospitalized.
- A Salt Lake County woman, 25-44, not hospitalized.
- A Salt Lake County man, 25-44, not hospitalized.
- Two Salt Lake County men, 45-64, not hospitalized.
- A Salt Lake County man, 45-64, hospitalized.
- A Salt Lake County man, 65-84, not hospitalized.
- A Salt Lake County man, 25-44, hospitalized.
- A Cache County woman, 65-84, long-term care facility resident.
- A Cache County woman, 65-84, hospitalized.
- A Tooele County man, 65-84, not hospitalized.
- A Box Elder County man, 65-84, not hospitalized.
- A Box Elder County man, older than 85, not hospitalized.
- A Utah County man, 45-64, hospitalized.
- A Utah County woman, 65-84, hospitalized.
- An Emery County woman, 65-84, not hospitalized.
- A Sanpete County woman, 65-84, hospitalized.