SALT LAKE CITY — Exactly a year to the day the pandemic changed everything, Utah surpassed another grim milestone, but state officials shared messages of hope and optimism as COVID-19 vaccinations continue to pick up steam.

That milestone is 2,000 — 2,015 to be precise — Utahns now dead from the novel coronavirus.

The 23 deaths reported Thursday by the Utah Department of Health put the Beehive State over that mark. Fifteen of those deaths occurred before Feb. 11, but the causes weren’t confirmed until now.

Gov. Spencer Cox in his weekly COVID-19 briefing with the media recognized those Utahns who have “tragically lost their lives” to the virus.

“Even though that was the best-case scenario at the beginning of this pandemic, it’s still incredibly tragic for those of us who have friends, loved ones, who have lost their lives,” Cox said. “Our hearts go out to you.”

Cox reflected on the past year and the day, March 11, 2020, “when I think it became real and we realized that things were not going to be the same.” That day, the Utah Jazz’s Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19. The next day, the NBA shut down “and so many other institutions and facets of our lives began to change,” Cox said.

Thursday also marked the one-year anniversary of the day the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 not just an epidemic, but a pandemic with global ramifications.

The governor thanked Utah’s front-line health workers as continuing to be the “heroes through this pandemic,” while recognizing that during the darkest days “we unfortunately came extremely close to overwhelming our health care system.”

But state officials were optimistic as they continue to report a plateau in COVID-19 cases and a steady increase in the number of vaccines being administered in Utahns’ arms.

As of Thursday, another 34,290 vaccines were administered — the state’s highest daily count of vaccines — bringing the state’s total of first and second doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, and single doses of the newest vaccine available from Johnson & Johnson, to 936,681.

COVID-19 vaccinations are given at a Davis County Health Department vaccination clinic at the Legacy Events Center in Farmington on Thursday, March 11, 2021. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

So far, 79% of the population 70 and older has been vaccinated, “which is really something to be grateful for and proud of,” Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson said. About 64% of Utahns between the ages of 65 and 69 have also received at least one dose, and so far 29% between the ages of 50 and 64 years old have received at least one dose, she said.

State officials are “really excited” to reach the milestone of 1 million vaccine doses administered, Henderson said, which is expected to be achieved in the next several days.

“We feel incredibly optimistic about where we are,” Cox said.

‘Don’t make a fool of yourself’

Cox expects all Utahns to be eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccinations starting April 1, 10 days before the statewide mask mandate is set to be lifted thanks to a bill the Utah Legislature passed last week. After April 10, however, masks will still be required in schools and for large gatherings.

All Utah adults should be able to get COVID-19 vaccines starting April 1, governor’s office says
2021 Utah Legislature wrapped: Lawmakers exert control over COVID-19 restrictions

In anticipation of that April 10 date, Cox had strong words for Utahns, urging them to be patient and kind to one another. He also reminded people that businesses “absolutely have a right” to require masks on their own, even after April 10.

“If you go to a business and they are requiring you to wear masks, don’t yell at the clerk. Don’t yell at the store manager,” Cox said. “Don’t make a fool of yourself because you don’t want to wear a mask. ... And if you don’t like it, go shop somewhere else, OK?”

Cox urged Utahns to “act with respect to your fellow human beings.”

“You don’t need to be a jerk with people you come into contact with.”

Same goes for others who might be frustrated with a business’ approach to social distancing, the governor said.

“Conversely, if you go into a restaurant and a table is closer to yours than maybe what you think, don’t yell at the waitress and tell her that you want people 6 feet away from you,” Cox said. “If you don’t feel comfortable going out and eating at a restaurant because you’re at risk, then get takeout OK?”

“We have to treat each other with respect, all right?” Cox added. “This is not a free-for-all. We live in a society. We should care about each other. And if you don’t care about other people, then don’t go to places where other people are.”

Cox said sharing “a measure of grace and patience with each other” will be “really important” in the coming weeks and months.

“We’re close to the end of this pandemic. We need a measure of grace and patience with each other,” he said. “There are some people that will want to wear masks for much longer. Don’t mock them, don’t make fun of them, all right? They’re likely protecting their lives and protecting the lives of others.”

As for those who have never worn masks, Cox said “that’s OK, too. We don’t need to pile on those people. We’ve all made mistakes through this. We’ve all been critical of others when it turns out our side was wrong. We can do so much better together.”

Cox said he “didn’t love” HB294, the bill to lift the statewide mask mandate and spell out the end of other COVID-19 restrictions, but he noted it passed both the House and Senate with veto proof majorities.

Through negotiations, “we came up with the best we could do,” Cox said. “We told them, ‘Look, every day we get 25,000, at least, new people vaccinated and get closer to that immunity ... so we’ll take as many days as you can give us. We ended up with April 10.”

There’s nothing that prevents businesses from enacting their own mask requirements, and “that absolutely is something they can and should consider,” Cox said.

Cox also told Utahns to take on “some personal responsibility. If you are not comfortable, if you are at risk, if you have not been vaccinated, then take precautions.”

“We’re so close to the end, we’re getting vaccines out as much as possible please be kind to each other please be patient to each other,” Cox said, “and let’s show people what an incredible place Utah is to live.”

This week, 18 of Utah’s counties are now classified in the “moderate” category of the state’s COVID-19 transmission risk index. Of those, Utah County, Tooele County, Iron County and Sevier County made the switch from “high” to “moderate” this week, Cox said.

Though those counties’ COVID-19 restrictions will loosen, Cox said it’s important to remember it “does not mean the pandemic is over” in those areas.

“It means the disease is not spreading as much as it was before so there can be fewer restrictions. But if we’re not careful ... the virus can spread quickly again,” Cox said. “We certainly don’t want another surge so still take necessary precautions.”

Cox noted that in those “moderate” areas restaurants and bars can fully open, “which means you will see tables closer together” than in high-transmission counties.

Case counts

Utah saw an increase of 646 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, bringing the total number of cases to date in the state to 376,973, health department officials reported.

State epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn also announced the Utah Department of Health’s online dashboard would start reporting data of COVID-19 variants that have been detected in Utah.

As of Thursday, 33 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant, or commonly known as the “U.K. variant” have been reported in Utah, though she warned that number will increase, with about 30 additional cases expected to be added in the next day or so.

“So these numbers, the 70-ish individuals who have been diagnosed with a variant, shows that the U.K. variant is spreading here in Utah,” Dunn said. “We know that it’s more contagious than the other variants and that it does cause more severe disease in our younger population.”

The good news, Dunn said, is “the vaccines work against the variants” and Utah is doing a good job vaccinating residents. “So it’s so important that when the vaccine is available to you, you get it.”

To prevent the COVID-19 variants from becoming a concern, Dunn urged Utahns to continue masking and social distancing until their vaccinated.

COVID-19 testing continues throughout the state, with the rolling seven-day average for positive tests at 524 per day. There were 8,139 Utahns tested and 18,923 tests conducted in Utah since Wednesday. Over 2.27 million Utahns have undergone more than 3.97 million total tests.

The rolling seven-day average for percent positivity of those tests is 4.03% when all tests are included in the calculation, the state’s preferred method, and 8.44% when multiple tests by an individual over the past 90 days are excluded. 

Currently, 167 people are hospitalized in Utah with COVID-19. Total hospitalizations from the beginning of the outbreak are 15,014. 

The latest deaths reported are:

  • A Box Elder County woman, older than 85, who was not hospitalized at the time of death.
  • A Cache County woman, older than 85, who was a long-term care facility resident.
  • A Davis County man, between the ages of 45 and 64, who was hospitalized at the time of death.
  • A Davis County woman, older than 85, a long-term care facility resident.
  • A Davis County woman, older than 85, not hospitalized.
  • A Davis County man, 65-84, hospitalized.
  • An Iron County woman, 65-84, hospitalized.
  • A Kane County man, older than 85, not hospitalized.
  • Two Salt Lake County men, older than 85, neither hospitalized at time of death.
  • Two Salt Lake County women, older than 85, neither hospitalized.
  • A Salt Lake County woman, older than 85, long-term care facility resident.
  • A Salt Lake County man, older than 85, long-term care facility resident.
  • A Salt Lake County woman, 65-84, not hospitalized.
  • A Salt Lake County woman, 65-84, long-term care facility resident.
  • A Uintah County man, older than 85, not hospitalized.
  • A Utah County man, older than 85, not hospitalized.
  • A Utah County man, 65-84, not hospitalized.
  • A Washington County man, 45-64, not hospitalized.
  • A Washington County man, 65-84, not hospitalized.
  • A Washington County woman, 65-84, hospitalized.
  • A Weber County woman, older than 85, long-term care facility resident.