SALT LAKE CITY — The end to the COVID-19 pandemic is coming, but Utahns first need to get vaccinated against the deadly virus, Gov. Spencer Cox said Thursday as the state reported 1,242 new cases and nine additional deaths.
“There will always be this tug and pull between again, keeping people safe and getting back to normal. This has been the struggle all along,” the governor said, adding that the state will be launching a media campaign to tell Utahns that vaccines are the way to move on from the restrictions put into place to stop spread of the virus.
“We want people to get this vaccine. The way we get back to normal isn’t just that you get the vaccine, it’s that enough of us get the vaccine so that we can get to herd immunity,” Cox said, acknowledging that while 70% to 75% of the population has been suggested, “nobody’s exactly sure what that number is going to look like.”
But the governor said during his weekly update on COVID-19 that he is sure “there will come a time — and we’re having these discussions actively — that when we’ve vaccinated everybody that is at risk and when supply is now outpacing demand, then, yes, we will go to a different model.”
Then, there will be “some self-responsibility” so not everyone would have to wear a mask unless they want the additional protection, Cox said.
“At some point, everyone has a choice to make and everyone has to be responsible for that choice. That’s what we believe in. That’s different than a pandemic, where all are at risk.”
Just when Utah’s mask mandate and other restrictions intended to slow the virus spread would be lifted is not clear, although the state’s new goal is to get the vaccine to every Utah adult who wants it by the end of May now that more doses are coming from the federal government and more manufacturers are expected to be approved.
“I don’t know and I can’t tell you exactly what that time is going to be. But what I can tell you is that it’s coming and it’s coming quicker than most people anticipated,” he said, promising to follow medical advice on issues that are still uncertain, such as whether someone who has been vaccinated can still spread the virus.
Cox also announced a new statewide volunteer effort to assist with vaccinations.
“We’re going to need you. We’re going to need many of you,” Cox said. Utah will need to triple the 100,000 doses administered in the past week into April and May to be able to get everyone who wants to be vaccinated their shots in the next three months.
As of Thursday, 462,720 vaccine doses have been administered in Utah, up 20,244 from Wednesday.
Doctors and medical professionals are being sought to administer shots at mass vaccination sites expected to open next month as the state’s allotment of vaccines from the federal government continues to climb, as well as Utahns who can provide traffic control, administrative assistance and other needs.
Utahns can sign up to volunteer at utahresponds.org, but won’t get vaccinations themselves until they become eligible.
Right now, that’s health care workers, first responders, long-term care facility residents and staffs, K-12 teachers and school staffs and Utahns 70 and older. Starting March 1, Utahns 65 and older as well as those with specified medical conditions will be able to be vaccinated.
“There is a significant need,” Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson said of Thursday’s call for volunteers, describing the vaccination effort “the bright shining light at the end of the dark tunnel.”
Henderson said she’s already been hearing from doctors and many other Utahns who want to help. Volunteers will be asked to work a minimum of four-hour shifts, she said, adding that it may take a few weeks before they receive an assignment, although there are immediate opportunities for anyone qualified to administer vaccinations.
Dr. Angela Dunn, the state epidemiologist, warned that the COVID-19 variants that are emerging around the globe, including three cases of one from Britain that have been detected in Utah, are more easily transmissible. That makes wearing quality masks, social distancing and avoiding large gatherings even more important, she said.
“I’m confident if we keep doing this as a state, we will see the numbers drop to sporadic by the fall,” Dunn said.
Even Utahns who have been vaccinated should continue taking those steps to slow the virus spread, at least for the coming months, Dunn said, although two weeks after receiving a second dose of vaccine, they will no longer need to quarantine if exposed to COVID-19.
The rolling seven-day average for positive tests in Utah is now 1,049 per day. The rolling seven-day average for percent of positive tests that don’t include multiple tests by individuals within the past 90 days is 14.8%, and the rolling seven-day average for the percent of tests that are positive is 6.7%.
Utah has 327 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19. The death toll from the virus is now at 1,774, including the following nine deaths reported Thursday:
- A Morgan County man, between 65 and 84, long-term care facility resident.
- A Salt Lake County man, 45-64, hospitalized at time of death.
- A Tooele County woman, older than 85, long-term care facility resident.
- A Utah County woman, older than 85, long-term care facility resident.
- A Utah County man, older than 85, not hospitalized at time of death.
- A Washington County man, older than 85, not hospitalized.
- A Weber County man, 65-84, not hospitalized.
- A Weber County man, older than 85, long-term care facility resident.
- A Weber County man, older than 85, not hospitalized.