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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.

Total Cases: 400,559 | Total Hospitalizations: 16,381 | Current Hospitalizations: 142 | Deaths: 2,224 | People With At Least One Vaccine Dose: 1,359,120

Utah reported 207 new cases of COVID-19 Monday. For the past week, 3.5% of tests have come back positive. Utah’s positivity rate has plateaued recently.

The seven-day average for daily cases is 333. Currently, 142 people are hospitalized for COVID-19, up from 132 a week ago. Of those people, 61 are in the ICU for treatment, and about 66% of all ICU beds statewide are occupied.

The state reported one new death Monday.

So far, 2,605,967 people have been tested. Utah has received 2,735,943 vaccine doses and has administered 2,315,869 doses, including second shots.

According to Johns Hopkins University, there have been 32,725,013 cases and 581,939 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

  • All Utahns age 16 and older are eligible for a vaccine. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the Pfizer vaccine Monday for kids ages 12 to 15, but the Utah Department of Health said it’s waiting for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to provide more guidance Wednesday. There are 215,000 Utah children in that age group, according to UDOH.
  • University of Utah Health announced Wednesday a suspected blood clot case related to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Officials said the man who is younger than 50 years old has already been treated. The state briefly paused usage of the J&J vaccine in April after reports of blood clots surfaced. Richard Orlandi, with U of U health, said this is a rare case and people shouldn’t be worried. “We will continue to have faith in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine within University of Utah Health because the benefits far outweigh the risks,” he said. So far, nearly 90,000 Utahns have received the single shot vaccine.
  • Public health orders in Utah related to the COVID-19 pandemic have officially ended. State health officials announced Tuesday Utah has met the criteria laid out in the Legislature’s “Pandemic Endgame” bill. It required the state to meet a certain usage for intensive care unit beds, give out more than 1.63 million first shots of the vaccine and maintain a relatively low two-week case rate The mask requirement in schools will also end June 15 or at the end of the academic year — whichever comes first.
  • More than 40% of all Utahns have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. State and health officials want to see that number increase, so Gov. Spencer Cox said April 29 any business or organization can request a mobile vaccination clinic. “We will come to you and at no cost to your organization,” Cox said.
  • The Utah Department of Health has restarted distribution of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. It was paused due to concerns about a rare blood clot as a side effect, however an expert panel put together by the CDC and FDA determined the vaccine is safe and effective.
  • At least three variants of COVID-19 have now been found in Utah. According to state data, four people have tested positive for the South African strain. There have been 16 cases of the strain from Brazil. Nearly 1,000 people have had the U.K. variant. However, some studies have shown that both Moderna and Pfizer’s vaccines are effective against the different strains.
  • The Utah Department of Corrections reported April 29 that every inmate at its Draper and Gunnison locations has been offered a COVID-19 vaccine, not including new arrivals. According to a corrections spokesperson, nearly 2,700 individuals have been fully vaccinated. But the ACLU of Utah said vaccine distribution at county jails has been inconsistent and is pushing local health departments to make a vaccination plan for incarcerated people by May 4.

Statewide Mask Mandate

The statewide mask requirement ended April 10 under a bill passed by the State Legislature. However, masks are still required in schools and in large gatherings with more than 50 people. Local health departments can also choose whether to implement their own requirement.

COVID-19 Vaccines

All Utahns 16 and older are now eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. The state is currently distributing the two-dose Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, but has temporarily halted the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine as the federal government reviews data around six reported cases of a rare and severe type of blood clot .

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

Vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson have been approved for emergency use by the Federal Drug Administration. 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.

The Utah Department of Health has started distributing the J&J vaccine again. The state had paused its distribution after reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that it caused blood clots in some patients. Health officials say although clotting is extremely rare, they will take safety precautions.

Despite concerns from some people that the J&J 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 the 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

Colleges and universities are required to test people within 24 hours of the onset of COVID-19 symptoms, as well as do randomized testing.

The state now recommends that students who have close contact with a person who tested positive for COVID-19, do not have to quarantine, if that exposure occurred while they were both wearing masks.

The Utah Department of Health reported Monday there have been 38,167 cases in schools since classes resumed. Of those cases, 31,578 are among students.

As of May 10, the Davis School District in Davis County has the most total and active cases in the state with 6,292 total cases among its more than 73,000 students. Of those cases, 184 are considered active.

As of May 8, Brigham Young University is reporting 15 active cases during its spring semester.

As of May 10 Utah Valley University has reported 2,136 total cases — 1,837 have been among students and 299 have been among employees.

The University of Utah is currently in the moderate transmission level, allowing only some in-person classes and requiring face coverings to be worn at all times in public spaces. The university saw 2,457 self-reported cases during the fall semester. It is reporting 841 cases among students and staff during the spring semester as of May 4.

Utah State University reported 11 active cases of COVID-19 as of May 10, with nine of those cases on its Logan campus. Since March 2020, USU has seen 3,266 cases.

Long-term Care Facilities

As of May 10, there have been 1,166 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 287 have had outbreaks.

Of people living in those facilities, 712 have died and 5,108 residents have tested positive for the virus. In case of an outbreak at a facility, Utah’s epidemiologist said the state can use its mobile strike teams to assist.

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?
  • How are worship services being affected?
  • How is this affecting national parks?

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: Grand

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Moderate Level: Box Elder, Cache, Davis, Duchesne, Iron, Morgan, Salt Lake, San Juan, Summit, Toeele, Utah, Wasatch and Weber

Low Level: Beaver, Carbon, Daggett, Emery, Garfield, Juab, Kane, Millard, Piute, Rich, Sanpete, Sevier, Uintah, Washington 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.

How Are Worship Services Affected?

The Church has reverted back to its September guidelines. Top Church leadership released a letter in early September that directed Utah area leaders to create a plan for in-person or virtually based on local conditions.

In May of 2020, the Church also asked all its members in Utah to wear a face mask while in public to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

The majority of temples in the United States, Canada, Europe and Asia are in Phase Two of the Church’s reopening plan, which means people will be able to perform all living ordinances by appointment.

The Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, which covers the state of Utah, announced parishes may resume public masses as long as they follow recommended health guidelines.

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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