As Utah learns it will get less vaccine next week than expected, rate of new cases continues to slow

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Cassidy Murphy tests for Covid-19 at Intermountain Healthcare Cottonwood InstaCare, on Friday, Dec. 11, 2020.

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Utah will be receiving thousands fewer COVID-19 vaccine doses than the state previously was promised for its first round of vaccinations, state officials said Friday.

“Like many other states, this afternoon we learned we will be receiving fewer doses of the Pfizer vaccine next week than we were planning for,” health officials tweeted. “Working now to figure out why.”

The state will receive 16,575 doses “instead of the 23,400 we were planning for,” health officials wrote on the Utah Department of Health’s Twitter account — a reduction of about 30%.

It’s not clear who that will delay in getting vaccinated.

Multiple states have reported receiving fewer doses than anticipated.

Meanwhile, Pfizer — the vaccine’s manufacturer — said in a news statement Thursday that it hasn’t been told where to ship all of the doses it has produced for the United States.

“We have millions more doses sitting in our warehouse but, as of now, we have not received any shipment instructions for additional doses,” the statement read.

In a statement, Intermountain Healthcare — which has been administering the vaccine at several of its hospitals — said it “is grateful for what we have received and excited to have started vaccinating our caregivers. We will adjust as we have the entire pandemic and administer vaccine as we get it.”

In a statement, officials at University of Utah Health said they were “currently busy vaccinating our teams with the supply we now have in house. We’ll adjust our rollout plan as needed.”

Both Intermountain and University of Utah Health urged Utahns to continue to wear face masks, practice social distancing, wash hands and stay home if sick.

Meanwhile, with 2,644 new coronavirus cases reported Friday, Utah’s rate of new diagnoses fell again — but with 14 new deaths, Friday marked the end of the virus’s deadliest two weeks in Utah.

And while statewide case rates were falling, parts of Utah this week reported some of the highest county and local infection rates seen since the pandemic began.

The Utah Department of Health on Friday reported a seven-day average of 2,494 new positive test results per day — the lowest rate since Nov. 30.

But Utah’s death toll from the coronavirus stood at 1,140 on Friday, with 14 fatalities reported since Thursday:

  • A Carbon County man, age 65 to 84.

  • A Davis County woman, age 65 to 84.

  • An Emery County man, age 65 to 84.

  • Three Salt Lake County women, one age 45 to 64, one age 65 to 84, and one older than 85.

  • Two Salt Lake County men, ages 65 to 84.

  • A Sanpete County man, age 45 to 64.

  • A Utah County woman, age 65 to 84.

  • A Washington County man, age 65 to 84.

  • A Weber County man, age 45 to 64.

  • Two Weber County women, one age 45 to 64, the other older than 85.

“We absolutely predicted this,” Dr. Eddie Stenehjem, an infectious diseases physician at Intermountain Medical Center, said of the growing numbers of fatalities. “We are seeing a decrease in cases, but we can’t forget the fact that we had a huge spike the two weeks before Thanksgiving. ... The deaths we’re seeing right now are due to the big increase in cases we saw before Thanksgiving.”

Hospitalizations were down slightly Friday, with 539 Utah patients concurrently admitted, UDOH reported — the lowest count since Nov. 19.

But intensive care unit admissions remained high — also a figure that lags far behind the discovery of new positive test results.

“Keep in mind, when a patient gets into the ICU with COVID-19, that typically isn’t a short hospitalization,” Stenehjem said. “It takes a while for those patients to either get well enough that they can move out of the ICU, or unfortunately, pass away.”

That means ICU patients may accumulate over time. This week, the ICUs at Utah’s larger “referral” hospitals exceeded 100%, according to state data. As of Friday, they were 99.3% full.

In total, 1,243 patients have been hospitalized in Utah for COVID-19, up more than 600 in the past week.

UDOH reported Friday that another 940 people have received the COVID-19 vaccine, for a total of 1,347 since the first doses were administered Tuesday. The vaccination count is reported to UDOH by hospitals, and is about a day behind.

Central Utah was reporting the state’s highest infection rates per capita, with Sanpete and Millard counties this week posting the highest rates of any county in Utah since the pandemic began.

In Sanpete County, more than 1 in 47 residents had tested positive for the virus in the past two weeks — meaning their cases are considered “active.” That figure rises to 1 in 38 within the towns of the Sanpete Valley. And in Millard County, 1 in every 49 residents were diagnosed with active cases, with 1 in 47 in the Delta-Fillmore area.

Meanwhile, Beaver County reported a record-high rate of more than 1 in 69 residents with active infections. Locally, more than 1 in 70 residents had active infections in nine of the Utah’s 99 “small areas,” used by state officials to study health trends. Apart from those in Sanpete and Millard counties, they are: northern Orem; Lehi; Eagle Mountain and the Cedar Valley; Herriman; Saratoga Springs; Washington City; and Smithfield.

Cases also were rising precipitously in Utah’s jails and prisons. The state reported 842 new cases in correctional facilities since Dec. 1 — more than a third of all such cases since the pandemic began.

And Davis County reported 18 new cases in its jail after one inmate developed symptoms and was tested Friday morning. Of the 35 inmates who live in that patient’s unit, 19 have tested positive and 10 more tested negative but have symptoms. All who were exposed are under quarantine, county officials wrote in a news statement. All jail staff will be tested for COVID-19 at the beginning of every shift for at least two weeks, and all inmates will be tested every two to three days.

“Given the amount of time that COVID-19 has been in the community, the fact that this is the first time for those in our care and custody to test positive demonstrates the steps we have taken are working,” Sheriff Kelly V. Sparks said in the news release. “At the same time, this incident reminds us that we all must remain vigilant in our precautionary and sanitary measures, in the workplace and elsewhere.”

For the past week, 22.12% of all tests have come back positive, continuing an 11-day decline since the rate peaked at 27.1% in the first week of December. But state officials have said that when more than 3% of tests produce positive results, it suggests a large number of infected people are not being tested, and may be unwittingly infecting others.

There were 10,547 new test results reported Friday, below the weeklong average of about 12,100 new tests per day.