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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.

This page will be updated on Monday, Oct. 25. 2021.

Total Cases: 538,895 | Total Hospitalizations: 23,531 | Current Hospitalizations: 530  | Deaths: 3,128 | Percent Of Utahns Fully Vaccinated: 54.2%

Utah reported 1,619 new cases of COVID-19 Friday. For the past week, 10.4% of tests have come back positive.

The seven-day average for daily cases is 1,397. Currently, 530 people are hospitalized for COVID-19, down from 559 a week ago. Of those people, 194 are in the ICU for treatment, and nearly 96% of ICU beds in the state are occupied.

Health officials reported 10 new deaths Friday.

So far 3,638,686 people have been tested. Utah has received 4,291,184 vaccine doses and has administered 3,656,641 total doses.

According to Johns Hopkins University, there have been 45,336,575 cases and 734,034 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

  • The University of Utah announced Aug. 27 it will require students to be vaccinated for COVID-19. Utah Valley University announced Aug. 30 it will have the same requirement for students for the spring semester. The move is possible because federal authorities gave non-emergency use approval to the Pfizer vaccines. A state law said government agencies, like universities, couldn’t have a mandate until a vaccine received that authorization. The Salt Lake Tribune reported Utah State and Weber State will also issue a vaccine mandate.
  • Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall announced Aug. 19 she’s issuing a mask mandate for K-12 students in the city ahead of their return to class Aug. 24. The Salt Lake School District declined to take an official stance, but in a statement, it said it strongly supports wearing masks as a protection for kids not eligible for the vaccine. Mendenhall said the issue has become politicized to the point that elected bodies worry about retribution if they take a public position. Last week, the county council voted down a mask mandate for K-6 students after it was recommended by the county health director. Mendenhall said it’s her responsibility to keep the city and school district from going down a “dangerous path,” by not requiring masks. She said she’d lift the order when COVID-19 cases go down. Salt Lake County is currently in the high transmission level for COVID cases.
  • The Utah Department of Health released new guidance Aug. 2 for schools as they reopen amid another COVID-19 surge. Officials are recommending teachers and students wear masks indoors and encourage everyone over the age of 12 to get vaccinated. They said quarantining after exposure isn’t necessary if people are fully vaccinated or if both parties were wearing a mask at the time. It is possible for local health departments to issue a mask mandate in schools, but they must get approval from elected officials to do so. It could also be overturned at any time.
  • 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.

COVID-19 In Schools

The Utah Department of Health released new guidance recommending teachers and students wear masks indoors and encourage everyone over the age of 12 to get vaccinated.

They said quarantining after exposure isn’t necessary if people are fully vaccinated or if both parties were wearing a mask at the time.

It is possible for local health departments to issue a mask mandate in schools, but they must get approval from elected officials to do so. It could also be overturned at any time.

The Utah Department of Health reported Thursday there have been 13,670 cases in schools since the start of the 2021-22 school year. Of those cases, 11,829 are among students.

As of Oct. 21 Utah Valley University has reported 2,481 total cases — 2,116 have been among students and 365 have been among employees.

The University of Utah is currently in the high transmission level. The university has seen 3,896 self-reported cases since March 2020. As of Oct. 21 it is reporting 470 cases among students and staff during the fall semester.

Utah State University reported 101 active cases of COVID-19 as of Oct. 21 and 81 of those are on the Logan campus. Since March 2020, USU has seen 3,778 cases.

As of Oct. 20 Brigham Young University is reporting 25 active cases of COVID-19 and 384 total cases during its fall semester.

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

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.

Long-term Care Facilities

As of Oct. 21, there have been 1,589 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 302 have had outbreaks.

Of people living in those facilities, 823 have died and 5,982 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.

High Level: Beaver, Box Elder, Cache, Carbon, Davis, Duchesne, Emery, Garfield, Grand, Iron, Juab, Kane, Millard, Morgan, Piute, Rich, Salt Lake, San Juan, Sanpete, Sevier, Summit, Tooele, Uintah, Utah, Wasatch, Washington and Weber

Moderate Level: None

Low Level: Daggett and Wayne

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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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