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With about half Utah’s population now at least partially vaccinated against the novel coronavirus, officials hope the state is turning a corner in the year-old pandemic.
But numbers released Saturday suggest — as health officials have said — it still could be too soon to ditch masks altogether, despite a legislatively ordered lifting of the statewide mandate that had taken effect at midnight. Utah’s seven-day average for new infections continues to hover around 400.
Under a new state health order released Friday, Utahns are still required to cover their faces at organized events with 50 or more people and at K-12 schools, although exceptions abound.
“Until more people have a chance to get vaccinated, we urge people to continue to wear masks in public places and around those who haven’t been vaccinated,” said Richard Saunders, executive director of the Utah Department of Health. “We’ve come so far and are so close to returning to normal. We ask for your patience and cooperation a little while longer.”
Vaccine doses administered in past day/total doses administered • 32,887 / 1,683,737.
Utahns fully vaccinated • 668,371.
Cases reported in past day • 407.
Deaths reported in past day • Two.
Salt Lake County reported one death: A woman between the ages of 65 and 84. The other death is a Utah County man in the same age range. Both deaths occurred prior to March 18.
Tests reported in past day • 6,399 people were tested for the first time. A total of 14,731 people were tested.
Hospitalizations reported in past day • 143. That’s up three from Friday. Of those currently hospitalized, 53 are in intensive care units.
Percentage of positive tests • Under the state’s original method, the rate is 7% or the same as the seven-day average.
The state’s new method counts all test results, including repeated tests of the same individual. Saturday’s rate was 3.4%, which is about the same as the seven-day average.
Totals to date • 389,760 cases; 2,159 deaths; 15,749 hospitalizations; 2,442,968 people tested.
Masks are still required in most indoor public settings in Salt Lake City, where Mayor Erin Mendenhall has decided to buck state leaders, preferring to err on the side of caution in the hopes of staving off a potential resurgence of the disease that has claimed the lives of 2,159 Utahns since March 2020. Some lawmakers dispute that cities have the authority to extend mask mandates beyond April 9, but Mendenhall is continuing to assert her “powers to protect life in an emergency.”
Provo’s Michelle Kaufusi, the mayor of Utah’s third-largest city, has not followed Mendenhall’s lead, citing low COVID-19 case counts and high vaccination rates. But she still urges residents to voluntarily mask up and practice social distance where appropriate.
“While mask signage will be removed from city facilities, we encourage employees and visitors to continue wearing masks if that is their preference,” she said.
Health experts still advise social distancing and good hygiene practices,” the Provo mayor said in her blog, announcing the expiration of the state mask mandate. “Local businesses may still elect to require masks, as is their right, and we hope all will be respectful of others.”
According to the state’s coronavirus data platform, Summit is Utah’s most vaccinated county, while those in the Uinta Basin are the least vaccinated. Between 55% and 60% of residents in Summit County, where the epidemic first took hold in Utah, have received at least one shot of the vaccine, while Uintah, Duchesne and Daggett counties have a vaccination rate of 20% to 25%.