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Health department says COVID-19 vaccines are ‘our path back to normal’ as federal mask guidelines loosen for vaccinated

Utah reports 259 new COVID-19 cases, 1 death

SHARE Health department says COVID-19 vaccines are ‘our path back to normal’ as federal mask guidelines loosen for vaccinated
Utah National Guard soldier Ebbin Wyatt administers a COVID-19 test to Nick Bradley at the Utah State Fairpark in Salt Lake City.

Utah National Guard soldier Ebbin Wyatt administers a COVID-19 test to Nick Bradley at the Utah State Fairpark in Salt Lake City on Monday, March 8, 2021.

Steve Griffin, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Just 259 new COVID-19 cases and one additional death from the virus were reported Monday by the Utah Department of Health, as federal health officials are now saying fully vaccinated Americans can gather together indoors without wearing masks or social distancing.

“Think of it as you can get some of your social life back if you’ve been vaccinated,” University of Utah Health coronavirus researcher Stephen Goldstein said. “But if you’re going out and about your business in the world, you kind of need to keep doing what you’re doing.”

The recommendations issued Monday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also say that once two weeks have passed after their final vaccine dose, Americans don’t need to wear masks to visit the household of unvaccinated relatives or others, as long as no one there is at an increased risk for contracting the virus.

However, those who are considered fully vaccinated still should wear a mask, social distance and avoid crowds and poorly ventilated spaces in public, when gathering with unvaccinated people from more than one household and when visiting someone whose medical condition makes them vulnerable.

The CDC also continues to recommend that Americans delay travel.

The state health department sees the new recommendations as emphasizing the importance of vaccinations.

“CDC’s guidance for fully vaccinated people is further evidence that the vaccines are our path back to normal. We know the vaccines are safe and effective, and when it’s your turn to be vaccinated, you should get your shot,” state health department spokesman Tom Hudachko said.

For Goldstein, the long-awaited recommendations should be viewed by vaccinated Utahns as “an incentive to relax in the areas where they can relax,” getting together with grandchildren and others they’ve been separated from over the past year, while continuing to follow public health measures when necessary.

Without the guidance, “then I would worry more people would say, ‘Hey, I’m vaccinated, I can do whatever I want,’” he said. “There’s some people who are going to do what they want no matter what. But at least here, I think the majority of people want to do the right thing. Now, we’re giving them specific instructions.”

Goldstein said the ability to socialize for the fully vaccinated “is pretty great and pretty exciting. And hopefully that makes it a little bit easier for people to keep doing some of the other annoying or kind of frustrating things that they’ve had to do, which also are not going to be forever but we do still need to keep doing for now.”

While Texas and a number of other states are lifting mask mandates and other restrictions, Utah’s are still in place — for now. Gov. Spencer Cox has said he won’t veto a bill passed by the Utah Legislaturethat ends the statewide mask mandate on April 10, except for groups larger than 50 people where social distancing is not possible.

The bill, HB294, halts Utah’s pandemic restrictions either when the state hits a list of benchmarks or July 1, whichever comes first. Those benchmarks include the state receiving some 1.63 million first doses of coronavirus vaccine, enough for 70% of Utah adults, as well as lowered case counts and hospitalizations.

The governor said he believes most vulnerable Utahns will be vaccinated by the April 10 date in the bill.

Before the new CDC recommendations were issued, an Intermountain Healthcare infectious diseases physician urged Utahns to continue wearing masks, especially around those whose age or medical conditions put them at high risk.

“It’s less likely that the vaccine will be fully effective in some individuals. So it’s a person-by-person decision,” Dr. Brandon Webb said Friday. “Not everyone should view the vaccine as a ticket to full freedom yet while we still have community transmission.”

There was an increase of 2,087 vaccine doses administered in the state since Sunday, a number that is expected to climb as some 700,000 more Utahns are now eligible, including those 16 and older with an expanded list of specified medical conditions, along with everyone 50 and older.

To date, nearly 858,000 Utahns have received at least one dose of vaccine.

Besides older Utahns and those with medical conditions that now include obesity with a body mass index of 30 or higher, as well as chronic kidney disease and Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, health care workers, first responders, long-term care facility residents and staff, and K-12 teachers and school staff are also eligible to be vaccinated.

The rolling seven-day average for positive tests is 518 per day, and there were daily increases of 3,083 Utahns tested, with 5,530 tests conducted. The rolling seven-day average for percent positivity is 4.38% when all test results are counted, and 9.06% when the results of multiple tests by an individual within 90 days are excluded.

The number of people hospitalized in Utah with COVID-19 is 193, and the state’s death toll has reached 1,977 with the loss reported Monday of a Washington County man, between 65-84, who was hospitalized at the time of his death.