SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s largest health care provider, Intermountain Healthcare, said Friday that nine mass COVID-19 vaccination sites stretching from Logan to St. George are expected to begin operating March 1, along with smaller, drive-thru locations in rural areas of the state.
The announcement comes as Utah reported 1,060 new cases of the coronavirus Friday and 11 additional deaths.
Intermountain’s mass vaccination sites are still being finalized, according to a spokesman, but Gov. Spencer Cox has said shots should be available at stadiums, movie theaters and parking lots — places that can administer at least 1,000 doses a day to keep up with an anticipated boost in Utah’s allotment from the federal government.
Utah’s mass vaccination plans are being put together by a coalition headed by the Utah Department of Health that includes local health departments, Intermountain Healthcare, University of Utah Health, Revere Health and Nomi Health, an Orem company behind the “Test Utah” program for COVID-19 testing hired by the state to assist.
“I’m really excited about this,” Dr. Mark Briesacher, senior vice president and chief physician executive for Intermountain Healthcare, told reporters during a news conference Friday.
Briesacher said the increased vaccine supply coming to Utah from the federal government is allowing for the effort, as well as the state’s decision to expand eligibility starting March 1 to Utahns 65 and older as well as to those with specified chronic medical conditions.
Right now, health care workers, first responders, long-term care facility residents and staffs, K-12 teachers and school staffs, and Utahns 70 and older are able to get vaccines. The Biden administration has purchased additional doses, and more vaccines are expected to be approved shortly for use in the United States.
“Everyone involved in the work, from the state to all the partners in the coalition, we want to get going as soon as possible. There are a number of variables,” Briescher said, suggesting the March 1 date could possibly be moved up.
“The bottom line is we want to start vaccinating more people as described as soon as we can. And if that can happen a half a week earlier, or a week earlier, that would be great. I just want to be realistic about all the variables, from a logistics perspective, a staffing perspective,” he said.
The doctor also expressed support for the state’s new goal of getting the vaccine to every Utah adult who wants it by the end of May, but acknowledged something could happen to get in the way.
“Based on what has been predicted in terms of supply and as the state crunches numbers, I have confidence in that end of May. But I also know and I think we’ve learned this time and again in this pandemic, things change,” Briesacher said.
He said Intermountain is telling its teams to “be bold,” but also to be ready for the unforeseen.
“We know things will change and affect the pace at which this happens. We hope those are all positive. But we’re realistic,” Briesacher said, adding that the system “will roll with the punches, learn from it, and keep moving forward.”
The governor, along with Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, has called for Utahns to volunteer to assist with vaccinations, both at the mass sites and through local health departments. Doctors and other medical professionals, as well as those with administrative and other needed skills, are asked to sign up at utahreponds.org.
The state health department is already switching how it calculates the percent of positive tests so repeat tests by an individual over 90 days will be included. Friday, the department announced that beginning next Thursday, the adjusted calculation will be used as one of three measures that determine restrictions by county.
Counties must meet requirements in two of the three measures, which, in addition to the seven-day average percent of positivity are the 14-day case rates by population and the statewide utilization of hospital intensive care unit beds.
Because the adjusted calculation skews lower, the transmission index is also changing.
Starting next Thursday, a seven-day average percent positivity greater than 10% will be in the “high” transmission category; a percent positivity between 5.1% and 9.9%, the “moderate” transmission category; and a percent positivity of 5% or less, the “low” transmission category.
Another change is that side-by-side seating at public gatherings — including movie theaters, sporting events and weddings — will be allowed where transmission is considered moderate as long as all patrons are wearing masks, sit in assigned seats and attest to not have COVID-19 symptoms or exposure within the past two weeks.
Concessions stands must be closed, however, because of the increased risk of patrons removing their masks to eat or drink, and social distancing from those outside a patron’s household “is still strongly recommended at these venues” by the state health department. Masks will still be required in areas of low transmission.
Most of Utah is currently in the high transmission category. Only four of the state’s 29 counties, Daggett, Rich, Piute and Garfield, are in the low transmission category.
Rich Saunders, the state health department’s executive director, said there was “not one driving outside influence” behind the changes. He said the department has been “wrestling with this since the beginning of the pandemic,” and that the methodology now in place is similar to what’s being used in a majority of states.
“Some have expressed, will a county go into moderate or low sooner? Well, if the methodology for determining percent positivity and these metrics are proven and solid and sound, which they are, then we sure hope so. We sure hope movement happens because it will reflect what’s real,” Saunders said.
Friday, the state health department reported that 26,996 new vaccine doses have been administered for a total of 489,716 in the state. Also, another 7,143 people were tested for COVID-19 in Utah, and an additional 20,095 tests administered.
The rolling seven-day average for positive tests is 1,025 per day. The rolling seven-day average for percent positivity under the adjusted calculation is 6.6%, compared to 14.7% under the method previously used that didn’t count multiple tests by the same person during a 90-day period.
There are currently 312 people hospitalized with the deadly virus The 11 deaths reported Friday take the death toll to 1,785 and include six deaths that occurred before Jan. 15. The latest deaths are:
- A Box Elder County man, between 25 and 44, hospitalized at time of death.
- A Cache County woman, older than 85, long-term care facility resident.
- A Cache County man, older than 85, not hospitalized at time of death.
- A Davis County woman, 65-84, hospitalized.
- An Iron County man, 65-84, hospitalized.
- A Salt Lake County man, 45-64, hospitalized.
- A Tooele County woman, older than 85, long-term care facility resident.
- A Tooele County man, 65-84, hospitalized.
- A Utah County man, 65-84, hospitalized.
- A Wasatch County man, older than 85, long-term care facility resident.
- A Weber County man, 65-84, long-term care facility resident.