Utah’s COVID-19 cases have hit a “clear plateau,” Gov. Spencer Cox said Thursday, calling on residents to continue to take commonsense precautions and get vaccinated against the virus.
During the governor’s weekly briefing on the state’s efforts against the coronavirus, held virtually from the Capitol in Salt Lake City, state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn said the plateau in cases is “really good news” because unlike Michigan and a number of other states, Utah has not seen a surge in new cases.
Dunn, who is leaving the state to head the Salt Lake County Health Department, credited wearing masks, social distancing and other public health measures as well as the “rapid uptake” of COVID-19 vaccines. More than half of Utahns 16 and older have had a single dose, and more than a quarter are fully vaccinated.
“We haven’t seen any dramatic or really obvious impact of ending the mask mandate on April 10 to our cases and the spread of COVID,” Dunn said, adding that she has noticed people are still tending to mask up in public despite the new law that lifted the statewide requirement.
Cox announced Grand County now has a high level of virus transmission and is the only one of Utah’s 29 counties in that category. At the same time, Washington County shifted from the low to moderate category, while Carbon and Sevier counties headed the other direction, from a moderate to a low transmission level.
”This is just a reminder again that the pandemic is not over although we’re getting closer,” the governor said.
Dunn said “no specific source” has been identified for the increased transmission levels in some counties. Utah’s transmission levels are determined by the percent positivity of tests, case counts and hospital intensive care unit utilization and used to spell out what activities can take place,
Demand for COVID-19 vaccinations in Utah is “starting to soften and this is not totally unexpected,” Dunn said, adding the nearly 2 million Utahns who have received at least one dose were “very eager and ready” to get the shots. Some 800,000 Utahns are now fully vaccinated, meaning it’s been at least two weeks since their final dose.
Now, though, “we’re starting to work into those populations who might have some hesitancy or are just taking their time to get vaccinated,” she said, urging them not to wait. Dunn said the state has plans to get vaccine doses directly to doctors rather than relying largely on mass vaccination sites.
The TriCounty Health Department that serves Uintah, Duchesne and Daggett counties announced Thursday drive-up COVID-19 vaccinations are ending this month due to decreased demand. Starting May 3, the shots will be available by appointment at the department’s offices in Vernal and Roosevelt, just like other vaccines.
Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson said school districts are pushing to get students who are 16 or 17 years old vaccinated with their parents’ consent before the school year ends. The COVID-19 vaccine is not approved for anyone younger than 16 years old, although trials have shown promising results for children 12-15 years old.
“We are trying to reach into schools to make it easy for these young adults, these teenagers to get vaccinated,” Henderson said. “This is really a key component to making sure we can all get back to school in the fall and do so safely and hopefully normally.”
Dunn declined to take questions about her move from the Utah Department of Health to Salt Lake County announced earlier this week.
“I was not fired from my current position. This was a choice. Until I make that transition, my focus is solely on continuing to help inform the COVID-19 statewide response here in Utah,” she said before going over Utah’s latest coronavirus numbers, as she has done at briefings by the governor’s office since the start of the pandemic.
Cox, who’d said earlier in the news conference that he was excited for Dunn but “so sad for us. This is a great promotion for her,” joked that he had told her he’d signed an executive order preventing her from leaving the state health department.
State reports another 472 cases
The state health department reported 472 new COVID-19 cases in the state Thursday, and one additional death from the virus, a Summit County woman between 45 and 64 who was hospitalized at the time of her death. Utah has had 394,334 coronavirus cases in the state since the start of the pandemic more than a year ago.
There have been a total of 1,985,296 coronavirus vaccine doses administered in Utah, a daily increase of 34,402. Cox said he expects a “lucky” Utahn will receive the 2 millionth dose given in the state sometime Thursday.
The rolling seven-day average for positive tests is 386 per day, and 6,650 more Utahns took tests since Wednesday when a total of 16,394 tests were recorded.
Dunn lauded the drop in the rolling seven-day average for percent positivity of tests, now 2.96% when all results are included, and 6% when multiple tests by individuals are excluded.
Currently, 137 people are hospitalized with the virus in Utah and the state’s death toll has reached 2,178.