Despite unknowns about what kind of COVID-19 case rates holidays could bring — as well as the arrival of the new omicron variant — Gov. Spencer Cox said Thursday he likely won't reinstate any additional health orders until he has more information.
Omicron appears to spread faster, but it may also be less severe, Cox noted during a news conference.
Meanwhile on Thursday, the Utah Department of Health reported 1,104 new COVID-19 cases and nine new deaths due to the disease. So far, there are only a few known cases of omicron in Utah.
Cox said he and other state leaders will watch the variant over the next two weeks to better understand it.
"That's the piece, I think, that matters the most. We have lots of illnesses that spread very quickly, but if they're not filling up hospitals and killing people, we go about our business. If they are filling up hospitals and killing people, then obviously it becomes much more concerning," Cox said.
Last year, the state saw a spike of the coronavirus during the holidays, Cox noted, urging residents to take precautions and work to "protect everyone."
The state sequences about 10% of its coronavirus cases, he said. Delta remains the prominent variant in Utah.
Cox reiterated that vaccine "boosters work."
"Now is the time to get your booster. Not when omicron is here. Now is the time to get your booster. If you have time off during the holidays, it's a great time to get your booster in case you need a little time to recover," Cox added.
"That's the thing we can do most. As we talk to our health care experts, that's what they're recommending," Cox said.
As more information becomes known about omicron, state leaders will meet to discuss health measures, he added, but officials are "hopeful that we don't have to roll back those measures."
"The good news is that we are seeing reductions in the spread of COVID here in the state of Utah. Our numbers are coming down, our hospitalizations are coming down as well, that's welcome news," Cox said.
The rolling, seven-day average for new cases is now 1,051 per day, and the average positive rate of those tested is 13.5%, the state health department said. That compares to one month prior, when the rolling, seven-day average for new cases was 1,634 per day, and the average positive rate of people being tested was 16.7%.
Cox said we're seeing numbers we haven't seen since August or early September.
But Utah is also experiencing "concerning trends" in COVID-19 deaths, the governor said.
"Yesterday was a sobering reminder of this as we saw how deadly this can be, with the death of a young boy between the ages of 1 and 14," Cox said, adding that his "heart goes out" to the boy's family.
On Wednesday, the Utah Department of Health announced the Davis County boy's death. Additional information was not disclosed. He is the third child in Utah under age 18 to die due to the pandemic disease.
Booster shots of the COVID-19 vaccine are now available to anyone ages 16 and older in the state, Cox said. Boosters are having a "huge impact" against the delta variant of the disease, he said, and they are also believed to "perform much better" against the omicron variant.
Cox urged vaccine providers to "proactively reach out" to those ages 65 and older, and those with underlying conditions, to urge them to receive their booster shots.
With Utah reaching its one-year anniversary of the first vaccine doses given, Cox celebrated the state giving more than 4 million doses since then.
The state will soon start receiving "limited" doses of antiviral medications for COVID-19, according to the governor. Utah has also expanded monoclonal antibody treatment availability, and more people are now eligible. Cox said that is helping the state reduce hospitalizations, as current COVID-19 hospitalizations recently fell below 500 for the first time in several weeks.
He said hospitalizations due to other conditions are high, and so the state needs to reduce coronavirus hospitalizations to maintain capacity.
New Utah data
School-age children accounted for 163 of the 1,104 new cases reported on Thursday — 73 of those cases were ages 5-10, 41 cases were 11-13, and 49 cases were 14-17, health officials said.
Health care workers administered 14,698 vaccine doses, bringing total doses given in Utah to 4,390,582. That number includes booster shots. The health department reports 1.87 million people in Utah are now fully vaccinated.
On Thursday, 507 patients were hospitalized with the coronavirus in Utah, a decrease of 42 since the previous Thursday, one week ago.
Of the cases reported Thursday, 401 were "breakthrough," meaning the patients had been fully vaccinated more than two weeks before diagnoses of the disease. One new breakthrough death was also reported. That brings total number of breakthrough cases since vaccines became available (on Dec. 15, 2020) in Utah to 55,032, and breakthrough deaths to 330 — both statistics equal about 9% of the total population that has been confirmed to have COVID-19 or has died because of it, according to data from the state health department.
The latest deaths include:
- Two Utah County men between the ages of 45 and 64, who were not hospitalized when they died.
- A Weber County man, 65-84, hospitalized.
- A Davis County woman, 65-84, hospitalized.
- A Utah County woman, 65-84, hospitalized.
- A Davis County man, 65-84, hospitalized.
- A Utah County man, older than 85, not hospitalized.
- A Salt Lake County man, 45-64, hospitalized.
- A Washington County man, 65-84, unknown status.