SPANISH FORK — Gov. Spencer Cox just shrugged stoically after getting vaccinated against COVID-19 at the end of his weekly news conference on the virus Thursday, but state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn and others applauded his shot.
Cox said Utah is on pace to lift all coronavirus restrictions by July, the deadline set in a bill he signed Wednesday that also lifts the statewide mask mandate on April 10, although mask requirements will stay in place after that date for schools and groups larger than 50 in some cases.
The bill spells out that all of Utah’s COVID-19 related restrictions must end by July 1, but could cease even sooner once the state has received 1.63 million first vaccine doses, enough for about 70% of the population, and case counts and hospitalization rates remain low.
The Utah Department of Health’s immunization director, Rich Lakin, has said the state is projecting the federal government’s allotment to Utah will reach that threshold by mid-May. To date, more than 1.4 million first and second doses have been delivered to Utah.
“We’re very hopeful,” the governor told reporters at a site where a Utah County mass vaccination clinic was underway. He said he is optimistic that vaccination efforts in Utah and the rest of the country will prevent another COVID-19 surge like those in Europe that have led to new lockdowns.
“Our rate of vaccination is so much higher,” Cox said, especially among those most vulnerable to the deadly virus. He opened up vaccinations to all Utahns 16 and older Wednesday, after focusing first on older residents and those with medical conditions that made them more likely to become severely ill or die.
Cox, 45, did not become eligible to be vaccinated until Wednesday.
Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson said 80% of Utahns 65 and older have received at least one dose of the vaccine and 57% are fully vaccinated. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention consider people fully vaccinated two weeks after their final vaccine dose — two doses for Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and one for Johnson & Johnson.
Henderson urged Utahns to make an appointment to be vaccinated, calling it “the clearest path back to normalcy for all of us.” She noted Cox had authorized two hours of administrative leave for state employees to get their shots and asked the business community to follow suit.
The governor said words were “inadequate” to describe his feelings toward the vaccines, but offered a few, including “excited,” “overjoyed” and “relieved.” He reminded Utahns, however, to “please, please, please be careful” as restrictions are eased.
Dunn said the continued decline of a leading indicator, the percent positivity of cases, “is great news. That means our cases will continue to follow, as will our hospitalizations and our deaths. So we need to continue, of course, to wear face coverings, physical distance when we can, stay home when we’re sick” and get vaccinated.
After receiving their shots in front of the news media, the governor and his wife, Abby, posed for photos with their vaccination certificates. They stopped on their way out of the site to say hello to Aaron Dickey, 91, and his wife, Marion, 83, of Spanish Fork, who were there to get their second doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.
The Dickeys said some members of their own family had been hesitant to get the vaccine. In deciding whether or not to get the shot, Marion said she had looked to President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who received his first shot in January along with other senior church leaders.
“If the president of the church gets it, that’s good enough for me,” she said. “We’re supposed to follow the prophet and that’s that.”
Utah Army National Guard soldiers were on hand at the vaccination site set up inside a former Shopko store, including Sgt. Chase Mansfield, who brought along a wireless electronic device he’d built to show which of the 14 inoculation stations were available.
Now, nurses can signal Mansfield that they’re ready for the next patient rather than keeping their hands raised.
“I really enjoy electronics in my free time so I figured why not find a nice solution to a problem,” Mansfield said, adding it took a few prototypes to get to the finished product he was using Thursday. “I like to tinker, that’s what I like to do.”
Utah’s latest COVID-19 statistics
Thursday, the Utah Department of Health reported 527 new COVID-19 cases and seven additional deaths from the virus. A total of 1,232,991 vaccine doses have now been administered in Utah, a daily increase of 26,298.
The rolling seven-day average for positive tests is 419 per day, and 7,891 more residents have taken COVID-19 tests since Wednesday out of 18,530 administered. Nearly 2.4 million Utahns have been tested and more than 4.1 million tests have been conducted since the pandemic began.
The rolling seven-day average for percent positivity of tests is 3.8% when all results are included and 7.6% when multiple tests by an individual over the past 90 days are excluded.
Currently, 134 people in Utah are hospitalized with the coronavirus and the death toll has reached 2,088. One previously reported death of a Weber County man between 65 and 84 who was not hospitalized has been retracted, and four of the seven deaths reported Thursday occurred before March 1. The seven deaths are:
• A Utah County man, between 45-64, not hospitalized at time of death.
• A Washington County man, between 45 and 64, not hospitalized at time of death.
• A Salt Lake County man, older than 85, not hospitalized at time of death.
• A Salt Lake County man, between 45 and 64, hospitalized at time of death.
• A Salt Lake County man, between 45 and 64, not hospitalized at time of death.
• A Davis County woman, between 65 and 84, long-term care facility resident.
• A Utah County woman, between 65 and 84, not hospitalized at time of death.
Contributing: Spenser Heaps