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Gov. Spencer Cox Discusses Vaccines, LGBTQ Bills And Police Reform At Monthly News Conference

A photo of Spencer Cox at a press conference.
Francisco Kjolseth
Salt Lake Tribune
Gov. Cox said Thursday he doesn’t support two Utah bills addressing transgender athletes and minors.

Gov. Spencer Cox weighed in on COVID-19 vaccines, LGBTQ legislation and police reform Thursday at his monthly news conference.

COVID-19 and Vaccines

Cox spent the majority of the press conference discussing the state’s progress on COVID-19 and, in particular, its vaccine rollout.

He said the state is receiving about 45,000 vaccine doses each week and noted that about 62% of adults 70-years-old and older have received their first dose as well as 91% of long-term care facility residents. Some counties, he said, have vaccinated close to 70% of older adults and are starting to see less demand from people in that age group.

He announced that as of Thursday, Utahns between the ages of 65 and 69 are eligible to get vaccinated, which is earlier than the state had originally planned.

Utahns 18 or older with certain underlying medical conditions, like chronic heart disease or who’ve had cancer, will be eligible for the vaccine starting March 1. Cox said there are about 400,000 people who meet the new criteria and by delaying eligibility between the two groups, it will help the state move faster.

“We're methodically, via vaccination, targeting those who are most at risk, which will cut down on hospitalizations and deaths and allow us to get back to normal more quickly,” Cox said.

He said the state will continue the rollout by age group, coupled with other, less serious comorbidities. The next group will be people aged 60-64, followed by those between 55 and 59-years-old. Every adult who wants a vaccine should be eligible by May, he said, barring any production or delivery delays.

He noted COVID-19 cases in the state are still high but decreasing, and that testing is available to anyone, regardless of symptoms. Six counties in the state moved from the high transmission level to moderate on Thursday. Five counties are currently in the low level of transmission. The rest are still in the high transmission level.

Cox urged continued adherence to public health guidelines, such as mask wearing and social distancing, in order to keep the state’s cases trending downward. He said that will also help prevent the spread of the more contagious and deadly COVID-19 variants.

He also advised people to have patience trying to book vaccine appointments, as more Utahns sign up.

LGBTQ Issues

Cox responded to two controversial bills moving through the state legislature related to LGBTQ issues. One would prevent transgender minors from getting certain medical treatment, like puberty inhibiting medication or gender reassignment surgery. The other would ban transgender girls from playing girls sports in the state’s public schools.

Cox said as written now, he doesn’t support either. He said he understands the concerns about transgender girls competing in sports but he also wants to find a way to balance that with helping transgender kids feel they belong. He condemned the harsh rhetoric on both sides of the debate.

“If you have not spent time with transgender youth, then I would encourage you to to pause on this issue,” he said. “These kids are just trying to stay alive. There's a reason none of them are playing sports. I hope that there will be enough grace in our state to find a better solution.”

Cox said he threatened to veto the original version of the bill banning medical procedures for transgender youth. He said some recent changes have made it better, but he is still wary about government mandating or prohibiting medical care, including mandating the COVID-19 vaccine.

“I think we have to be really careful any time government gets in between doctors and families and patients,” he said. “It's not much of a stretch to go from saying, ‘You can only get this type of medical care or you can't get this type of medical care to you have to get a vaccine and government's going to force that.’”

Police Reform

State lawmakers are debating close to 70 bills this session addressing law enforcement and reform, Cox noted. They include everything from allowing cities to create police oversight committees to enhanced training for officers to the creation of police use of force standards. Many of the more far-reaching bills, however, have stalled, failed or been watered down.

A bill to ban no-knock warrants was narrowed to prevent only certain kinds of warrants, while the bill allowing for city oversight committees as well as one requiring body cam footage to be released in 10 days were both tabled in the House.

Still, Cox said he felt the state was making meaningful progress towards reform.

“Sometimes we can move in leaps, sometimes we take smaller steps,” he said. “But as long as we're moving in the right direction, I think that's what matters.”

He added the state has also made progress on police reform without legislation, such as implementing empathy training for corrections officers.

Jon reports on quality of life issues, education and the economy
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