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Health, Science & Environment

Coronavirus And Utah: What You Need To Know

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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
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Deseret News
Gov. Spencer J. Cox speaks during a COVID-19 briefing at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021.

WATCH: Utah officials and Gov. Spencer Cox will provide an update on the ongoing COVID-19 situation in Utah at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, August 3.

Total Cases: 435,439 | Total Hospitalizations: 18,770 | Current Hospitalizations: 395 | Deaths: 2,471 | Percent Of Utahns Fully Vaccinated: 46.4%

Utah reported 728 new cases of COVID-19 Tuesday. For the past week, 10.6% of tests have come back positive. Utah’s positivity rate has increased recently.

The seven-day average for daily cases is 877. Currently, 395 people are hospitalized for COVID-19, up from 338 a week ago. Of those people, 171 are in the ICU for treatment, and about 81% of all ICU beds statewide are occupied.

The state reported five new deaths Tuesday.

So far 2,938,515 people have been tested. Utah has received 3,410,141 vaccine doses and has administered 3,041,947 doses, including second shots.

According to Johns Hopkins University, there have been 35,174,217 cases and 614,068 deaths in the United States.

Utah Cases By Location

Source: https://coronavirus.utah.gov/case-counts

A Snapshot Of The Latest COVID News In Utah

  • Dr. Kencee Graves with University of Utah Health said Wednesday, they are once again postponing elective surgeries as COVID-19 cases begin to surge. “The reason for that is because we need to be able to create the capacity to take care of those that are critically ill,” Graves said. “So about half of my medical intensive care unit beds are full of patients that have COVID-19. The majority of those are unvaccinated.”
  • At least six variants of COVID-19 have now been found in Utah, including the highly-contagious Delta variant, which currently accounts for more than 90% of all variant cases in the state. Other variants present are the U.K., Brazil and South African variants and two variants from California.

  • All Utahns age 12 and older are eligible for a vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave the green light May 12 for the use of the Pfizer vaccine for kids ages 12-15. The Utah Department of Health said providers should start offering that to families as soon as possible.

Statewide Mask Mandate

Masks Requirements

The statewide mask requirement ended April 10 under a bill passed by the state Legislature. Masks are recommended for crowded, indoor spaces where physical distancing is not possible. Local health departments can also choose whether to implement their own requirement. Learn more about the state’s mask recommendations for vaccinated and unvaccinated people.

COVID-19 Vaccines

All Utahns 12 and older are now eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine.

People who have tested positive for COVID-19 are now encouraged to sign up for a vaccine. However, they should wait until they no longer have symptoms from their infection and have been released from quarantine.

Utahns can go to any county within the state to get a vaccine. Gov. Spencer Cox cautioned that people will be required to return to that same location for their second Pfizer or Moderna doses. Local health department information and registration for vaccine appointments is available at coronavirus.utah.gov/vaccine-distribution or the CDC’s vaccinefinder.org.

The Utah Department of Health is partnering with private healthcare providers to help distribute the vaccine. University of Utah Health, Nomi and Intermountain will help administer first and second doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, as well as the single-dose J&J vaccine.

Local health districts are also handling distribution. Utahns can sign up through their local health departments.

Organizations are required to distribute their vaccines within a week of receiving it. If they don't, their inventory will be reduced, “and extra doses will be taken and redistributed,” Cox said.

The idea is to administer the vaccine quickly in order to qualify for more from the federal government, speeding up the timeline for everyone.

Safety And Effectiveness

Clinical trials found the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to be close to 95% effective at preventing patients from developing COVID-19 symptoms after two doses, given 21 and 28 days apart, respectively.

Despite concerns from some people that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has a lower rate preventing moderate illness than the other vaccines, health officials said what’s more important is its rate of preventing severe illness and death. Officials said the new vaccine is on par with the other shots, and people should not turn down the chance to take the J&J shot.

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Salt Lake County Health Department
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There are short-term side effects expected with each vaccine — things like fatigue, pain where the shot was given or a low fever — some of which have reportedly been pretty severe in some patients. But infectious disease specialist Dr. Joel Trachtenberg said those are normal reactions and signs the body is priming itself to protect from the virus.

The potential long-term side effects aren’t really known, given the quick timeline, but Trachtenberg said vaccines in general are incredibly safe and historically have been the best way to control the spread of harmful viruses.

Should You Take It?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone get the vaccine, even if they are at high risk for serious complications or have already had COVID-19. Preliminary studies show the vaccines are effective against the variants of virus but more research is still being done.

Dr. Anthony Fauci said that somewhere between 70-90% of the U.S. would need to get vaccinated in order to develop herd immunity, when enough of the population is immune to a disease that those who are not are still protected.

And while some people may be skeptical of the vaccine, Dr. Eddie Stenehjem, an infectious disease specialist with Intermountain Healthcare, said the science is sound.

“We all feel that this vaccine is safe and effective,” he said. “We feel that this vaccine needs to be deployed in our health care settings and in our communities as soon as possible.”

Salt Lake County health officials said the science isn’t yet clear on how long immunity lasts after vaccination and it’s possible boosters are needed months or years later.

COVID-19 In Schools

The Utah Department of Health reported Monday there have been 39,894 cases in schools in the 2020-21 school year. Of those cases, 33,053 are among students.

Brigham Young University has seven active cases during its summer term as of Aug. 1.

As of Aug. 2 Utah Valley University has reported 2,177 total cases — 1,865 have been among students and 313 have been among employees.

The University of Utah is currently in the moderate transmission level. The university saw 2,457 self-reported cases during the fall semester. It is reporting 888 cases among students and staff during the spring semester as of Aug. 2.

Utah State University reported 29 active cases of COVID-19 as of July 29 — 25 of those are on the Logan campus. Since March 2020, USU has seen 3,319 cases.

Long-term Care Facilities

As of Aug. 2, there have been 1,318 COVID-19 investigations at Utah’s long-term care facilities, which include nursing homes and assisted living locations. The state’s department of health has 352 licensed facilities and 292 have had outbreaks.

Of people living in those facilities, 753 have died and 5,251 residents have tested positive for the virus.

People over the age of 65 and those with underlying health conditions are considered to be at high risk of dying from COVID-19.

Read more: KUER's ongoing coverage of the coronavirus

Navajo Nation And Minority Communities Among Hardest Hit

After being one of the hardest-hit areas in the state per capita, vaccination rates on the Navajo Nation — including the portion near San Juan County — have been among the highest in the country.

Data from the Utah Department of Health show people of color make up nearly 25% of the state’s population but 44% of its coronavirus cases. The Latinx community has accounted for a disproportionately high amount of COVID-19 cases in Utah.

Now, vaccination rates among the state’s Latinx population have started to climb. Salt Lake County has opened 52 mobile health centers and outreach vaccine clinics aimed at reaching “underserved” populations.

State officials are holding press briefings in Spanish.

Native Americans, Alaskan and Hawaiian Natives, and Pacific Islanders in Utah continue to die from COVID-19 at well over twice the per-capita rate of any other demographic.

COVID-19 And Utah: FAQ

  • What are the levels of the transmission index?
  • How are those levels determined?

Transmission Index Levels

There are three transmission levels counties can be placed in: high, moderate or low. Each level comes with certain suggestions for restrictions, like mask requirements, how large public gatherings can be and how businesses, such as bars and restaurants, can operate.

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High Level: Box Elder, Cache, Carbon, Duchesne, Iron, Juab, Millard, San Juan, Sanpete, Sevier, Tooele, Uintah, Utah, Wasatch, Washington and Weber

Moderate Level: Davis, Morgan, Salt Lake and Summit

Low Level: Beaver, Daggett, Emery, Garfield, Grand, Kane, Piute, Rich and Wayne

Determining The Transmission Level

Each county’s level is based on three metrics: its seven-day average positivity rate, the two-week case rate per 100,000 people and statewide ICU utilization. Levels are determined if a county meets just two of the three metric levels.

Transmission levels will be reviewed weekly with updates announced every Thursday. In order for a county to move from a higher to a lower level, they must meet the requirements for at least two weeks. However, counties can move to tighter restrictions weekly.

Outdoor Recreation

The National Park Service issued a mask mandate across all parks this February. Masks are required in all facilities and outdoors when social distancing isn’t possible.

All of Utah’s national parks are open after closing early on in the pandemic. Some visitor facilities are limited though due to COVID-19. Some parks have closures due to winter conditions, it’s best to check their websites before visiting.

At Arches National Park Fiery Furnace, museum exhibits and the theater are closed. The museum and theater at Canyonlands National Park are also closed.

The shuttle at Zion National Park is running on select weekends and will fully reopen for daily service on March 13. To maintain social distancing, a $1 ticket is needed to ride. Reservations can be made in advance at recreation.gov.

Updated: May 1, 2021 at 10:07 AM MDT
Corrected: December 15, 2020 at 9:41 AM MST
A previous version of this story misstated the amount of time between doses for the Moderna vaccine.
Corrected: September 24, 2020 at 4:50 PM MDT
Previous versions of this story misstated what the seven-day average rate of increase meant for Utahns’ efforts in flattening the curve.
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