On a day of milestones — the first anniversary of the worldwide declaration of a pandemic, and as the state’s death toll from the coronavirus exceeded 2,000 Utahns — Utah’s leaders looked forward to a more hopeful distinction: The millionth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine being delivered in the state.
That million-shot milestone should arrive in the next few days, Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson said Thursday at the state’s weekly COVID-19 media briefing, where she and Gov. Spencer Cox celebrated the progress made in getting the vaccine to residents.
On Wednesday, the state saw its highest one-day total of doses delivered, at 34,290, Henderson said. That pushed the current total to 936,681, she said.
Of Utahns age 70 and older, 79% have been vaccinated, Henderson said, and Cox noted that is well above the national average.
“We feel incredibly optimistic about where we are,” Cox said. He added that county and regional health departments, as well as health companies and pharmacies statewide, “are doing an incredible job of getting those doses into arms as quickly as they are coming in.”
Cox said he spoke to federal officials who were “blown away” with the state’s success in getting people 70 and older vaccinated. “We’re now branching out to find more of those people who are homebound,” he said.
For those 65 to 69, 64% have had at least one dose, Henderson said, and 29% of those 50 to 64 have had at least one dose.
Last week, The Salt Lake Tribune reported that federal health officials are using outdated population data to determine vaccine allocations, which reduces the number of doses being sent to fast-growing states. Cox said he has raised that issue with the Biden administration, which will “refresh” the data it uses in coming weeks.
“We don’t know exactly what that will mean ... we don’t know how significant that will be, but it will mean more doses per capita for Utah than we’re getting right now,” he said.
Cox and Henderson spent part of their afternoon volunteering at a vaccine clinic in Farmington. They helped direct traffic and provided logistical support at the Legacy Events Center, at a drive-thru clinic run by the Davis County Health Department.
During the briefing, Cox urged Utahns who don’t have an appointment for a vaccination to go to the Utah Department of Health’s website, coronavirus.utah.gov, and click on the button marked “Where can I get vaccinated?” That link takes people to a detailed list of providers — health companies, pharmacy and supermarket chains, and regional and county health departments — that are distributing the vaccine.
He also recommended the federal VaccineFinder.org, operated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for which Utah is one of seven states that provides information on where to get the vaccine.
Cox counseled patience for people trying to make an appointment. “Please, please, please don’t give up,” he said, adding, “please, please, please do not make multiple appointments. Make one appointment and keep that appointment. When you make multiple appointments and don’t keep one, that’s an appointment that doesn’t get filled by somebody who desperately needs it.”
Henderson urged Utahns to get the vaccine, for everyone’s sake. “When you protect yourself by getting a vaccine, it’s not just for you. It’s protecting the community at large,” she said.
Four counties — Utah, Tooele, Iron and Sevier counties — have moved to the “moderate” transmission level, Cox also announced. “It’s a really big deal that Utah County has moved to ‘moderate,’” he said, noting that Utah County has been in the “high” transmission category since then-Gov. Gary Herbert established the system last fall.
Four rural counties with sparse populations — Daggett, Piute, Rich and Wayne — are in the “low” transmission range. Seven counties are in the “high” transmission category: Beaver, Carbon, Emery, Garfield, Kane, Summit and Uintah. The remaining 16 counties, including most of the Wasatch Front, are in the “moderate” category.
Dr. Angela Dunn, the state’s epidemiologist, said the Utah Department of Health’s dashboard would start running data on cases of COVID-19 variants in Utah.
Dunn said 33 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant, the so-called “U.K. variant,” have been detected in Utah, though more are likely to be coming.
The good news, Dunn said, is that “the vaccines work against the variant.” She urged people to keep wearing masks and socially distance.
UDOH announced Thursday that 23 more Utahns had died from COVID-19, bringing the overall death toll to 2,015.
Thursday was the first anniversary of the World Health Organization’s declaration that the COVID-19 spread was a global pandemic. It’s also one year since Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19, prompting the cancellation of that night’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder — when, Cox said, “so many institutions of our lives began to change.”
“Today marks the day when I think [the pandemic] became real, and we knew and realized things would not be the same,” Cox said.