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Becky Allen fist-bumps her son, Jack, 12, after he got a shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine from nurse Estefania Cruz at the Central Davis Senior Activity Center in Kaysville on Tuesday, July 6, 2021.
Becky Allen fist-bumps her son, Jack, 12, after he got a shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine from nurse Estefania Cruz at the Central Davis Senior Activity Center in Kaysville on Tuesday, July 6, 2021.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

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Utah hits 70% vaccination goal but governor warns ‘we’re not out of the woods yet’

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox announced Tuesday his goal of administering at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine to 70% of adults has been reached in the state.

“Big news: We’ve hit the 70% vaccination goal for Utahns 18+,” the governor said in a series of tweets, calling it “truly a milestone worth celebrating!” while continuing to urge all Utahns to get the shots because “we’re not out of the woods yet. Unfortunately, the pandemic is not over.”

He said there continues to be concern about rising case counts and increased hospitalizations, as the highly contagious and likely more virulent delta variant of the coronavirus that was first detected in India spreads rapidly through Utah and the rest of the country.

Since Friday, there have been 1,149 new COVID-19 cases and seven additional deaths from the virus in the state, the Utah Department of Health said Tuesday. Case counts and other coronavirus data was not reported daily over the holiday weekend and, going forward, will no longer be updated on holidays and weekends.

Despite the vaccination benchmark, Cox said vaccination rates are below 70% in some parts of the state, including many rural areas and communities of color. Vaccination rates are the highest in Park City and on Salt Lake City’s east bench, but lag in places that are traditionally vaccine-hesitant, like Utah County.

The governor pointed out that his calculation of how many Utahns are vaccinated includes nearly 115,000 doses administered in the state by federal agencies such as the Veterans Administration, in addition to 65.2% of adults reported by the state health department as of Sunday.

Syringes and stickers are pictured during a vaccination event in Utah.
Syringes and stickers are pictured during a vaccination event at the Central Davis Senior Activity Center in Kaysville on Tuesday, July 6, 2021.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

At least 20 other states have already hit the 70% mark, a goal also set by President Joe Biden but not reached for the entire country by the Fourth of July.

During the two weeks ending Sunday, Cox said there were 36,219 first doses of vaccine administered, including 245 on the Fourth of July holiday. “This is phenomenal,” he tweeted, along with thanks to health care workers, local health departments, business leaders and others behind the effort.

Thanks to the delta variant, Utah still has work to do to slow the spread of the deadly virus, health experts said.

Many Utahns are seeing the benefits of vaccination, “and we should celebrate that. We also are seeing that we have a long way to go,” said Dr. Tamara Sheffield, medical director of preventive medicine at Intermountain Healthcare.

“We have increasing rates of disease happening in our state. We have a new variant that has moved and has become the dominant viral strain,” Sheffield said, noting the number of daily cases has doubled in the past month. “We are still a state at risk. So the message would be, please come and get your vaccine.”

Han Kim, a professor of public health at Westminster College in Salt Lake City, said getting at least one vaccine to 70% of Utahns “is nice, but we’re not done yet.” He said he hopes Utahns “don’t get complacent. That’s not nearly enough to control this virus. It’s a nice first step, I think, but we really need to step up the vaccinations.”

Although 70% is sometimes seen as what Kim described as a “mythical herd immunity number” that protects people from virus spread, he said the reality is even more Utahns need the shots because the delta variant spreads so much more easily.

“I’m thinking closer to 80% of the entire population needs to be vaccinated, maybe even more, to be able to control the new delta variant,” Kim said. “Yes, the vaccines still seem to be very effective against it, but we’re going to have to vaccinate a far higher percentage of the population to control its spread.”

Audrey Rogers, 14, looks back at her mother, Emily Rogers, as she gets her first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine from nurse Clarece Glanville at the Central Davis Senior Activity Center in Kaysville on Tuesday, July 6, 2021.
Audrey Rogers, 14, looks back at her mother, Emily Rogers, as she gets her first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine from nurse Clarece Glanville at the Central Davis Senior Activity Center in Kaysville on Tuesday, July 6, 2021.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

Cox told CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday that he continues to talk with leaders of the Utah Legislature about offering state incentives to residents who get vaccinated. The governor had expressed enthusiasm for Ohio’s “Vax-a-Million” lottery with prizes including $1 million and full-ride college scholarships to state universities.

“They’re looking closely at what’s working in other states. I would like all options on the table, but I will say this: I think not dying is a great incentive,” he said, citing fellow Republican West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice’s statement that there’s a different lottery for people who won’t get vaccinated, “and it’s the death lottery.”

During the network interview, Cox called new national polling showing Democrats are more likely to be vaccinated than Republicans “troubling,” and said he has spoken often over the years “about how unfortunate it is that politics is becoming religion in our country, that politics is becoming sport and entertainment in our country.”

The result is that “everything is political. It’s a huge mistake and it’s caused us to make bad decisions during this pandemic and in other phases of our life as well,” Utah’s governor said, noting the partisan divide over COVID-19 vaccines is not quite as pronounced in Utah.

The latest Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll found that 59% of Republicans in Utah said they were already vaccinated against the virus, compared to 89% of Democrats. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll found nationally, only 45% of Republicans have gotten a shot, compared to 86% of Democrats.

Utah has administered just under 2.9 million vaccine doses, an increase of 13,878 since Friday. A total of 44.2% of all Utahns are now fully vaccinated, meaning it’s been two weeks or more since their final dose. Among all Utahns eligible for the vaccines — those 12 and older — that number increases to 54.7%.

Of the 1,149 new COVID-19 cases, 481 were reported Friday, 349 on Saturday, 161 on Sunday and 165 on Monday.

The rolling seven-day average for positive tests is 386 per day, and 9,468 people have been tested, with 14,683 tests conducted since Friday. The rolling seven-day average for percent positivity of tests is 7.7% when all results are included and 11.3% when multiple tests by an individual are excluded.

Currently, 274 people are hospitalized with the virus in Utah. The state’s death toll has reached 2,385 with the seven additional deaths since Friday. They are:

  • A Davis County man, older than 85, not hospitalized at time of death.
  • A Utah County woman, between 45 and 64, hospitalized at time of death.
  • A Salt Lake County woman, between 65 and 84, not hospitalized at time of death.
  • A Summit County man, between 65 and 84, not hospitalized at time of death.
  • A Davis County man, between 45 and 64, hospitalized at time of death.
  • A Washington County woman, older than 85, not hospitalized at time of death.
  • A Utah County woman, between 65and 84, hospitalized at time of death.
RaNae Bryantl receives a COVID-19 test from Utah National Guard Staff Sgt. Sorensen.
RaNae Bryantl receives a COVID-19 test from Utah National Guard Staff Sgt. Sorensen (no first name given) at the Maverik Center in West Valley City on Tuesday, July 6, 2021.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
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