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Utah’s nursing homes welcome their first COVID-19 vaccines with noisemakers and applause

UDOH reports 2,874 new cases Tuesday, and 16 more deaths.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jenny Chin is administered the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine by registered nurse Ashley Gardner of Redrock Pharmacy as seniors and staff at assisted living The Ridge Foothill in Salt Lake City receive the vaccine on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020, as the rollout continues at long-term care facilities.

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The line of residents at The Ridge Foothill — a few standing, others sitting on their rolling walkers or wheelchairs — snaked through a conference room and down a hallway Tuesday, with the seniors eager to see the nurses waiting for them with syringes and lollipops.

Dozens of residents and staff were ready Tuesday to get their vaccinations against COVID-19, as the Salt Lake City senior living center was among the first long-term care facilities to take part in the second wave of Utah’s rollout of the vaccine.

“It feels absolutely a relief,” said Wendy Moench, 69, who was the second resident of The Ridge Foothill to receive the vaccine Tuesday. “I feel happiness. It’s wonderful, a burden off my shoulders. A sense of real relief that they found something that’s going to help us. It feels like a great accomplishment for America.”

Since the first vaccines were administered on Dec. 15 in Utah, 20,417 doses have been given out — 2,874 since the previous day — the Utah Department of Health reported. Utah’s Phase 1 began with front-line hospital workers.

UDOH’s daily report Tuesday also counted another 2,736 people have contracted COVID-19 since Monday — and 16 more Utahns have died from the virus.

UDOH reported a seven-day average of 2,035 new positive test results per day — slightly above weeklong averages on Monday and Sunday, but otherwise the lowest since early November.

Hospitalizations also were up slightly, with 506 Utah patients concurrently admitted. In total, 10,763 patients have been hospitalized in Utah for COVID-19, up 120 in one day.

At The Ridge Foothill on Tuesday, Moench and fellow resident Joan Poston were the first to sit by the table where nurses in the now-familiar wrappings of personal protective equipment — masks, face shields, rubber gloves and hazmat overalls — formed an assembly line to prepare the syringes. Other staff worked the line of patients, taking temperatures and making sure their paperwork was in order.

Poston got her shot first, accompanied by applause and a few noisemakers, making the room sound like New Year’s Eve had arrived a couple of days early. Then it was Moench’s turn, eliciting more applause.

When they got up, orderlies escorted a third resident, Betty Fife, to sit for her vaccination. She enjoyed the celebratory noise that came with it. “I love big crowds,” she told the nurse who gave her the injection.

Mandy Hampton, chief operating officer of The Ridge — which also runs a care facility in Holladay — said most of the 109 residents and 104 staff at The Ridge Foothill were expected to get their doses of the Moderna version of the vaccine. A few residents are waiting for approval from their doctors, to make sure their current medications don’t interfere with the vaccine’s effectiveness, Hampton said.

Residents and staff at The Ridge Cottonwood, in Holladay, started receiving the vaccine on Monday afternoon, Hampton said.

Around 90 residents and another 90 staff members received the vaccine at Woodland Park Rehabilitation and Care Center, in Millcreek, said Tim Needles, the facility’s administrator. More than 90 percent of residents and staff accepted shots of the Pfizer Inc./BioNTech vaccine, Needles said.

“We were ecstatic,” Needles said. “Having the vaccine be available is an open door to closing this chapter … of this pandemic.”

Most residents had no qualms about taking the vaccine, Needles said. “When we brought it up, they just said, ‘Give me the paper [to sign]. I’m ready for it.’ They were part of the polio era, so in our community, they led the way as far as accepting the vaccine and being willing to take it.”

Hampton, at The Ridge, agreed. “This was not a generation that were anti-vaxxers,” she said. “They know the efficacies of what vaccines can do, and how it affects their lives.”

Both The Ridge Foothill and Woodland Park, like many long-term care facilities nationwide, experienced outbreaks in the early phases of the pandemic. The Ridge, Hampton said, saw a dozen residents die from COVID-19 in May; Woodland Park’s outbreak in April was mostly confined to staff, according to UDOH records.

“It’s been very difficult,” Moench said. “We’ve been away from our friends and family. We’ve been away from our roommates. We haven’t been able to eat in the dining rooms. We’ve had to eat in our rooms.”

Hampton and Needles both said it will be up to the state health department to decide when long-term care facilities can start to ease up on restrictions in place to halt the spread of COVID-19. That may not come, Hampton said, until residents get their second dose of the vaccine, in about a month.

Utah’s hospitals and pharmacies have had 102,025 doses of vaccine, both the Pfizer and Moderna versions, shipped as of Tuesday, according to the UDOH’s dashboard. About 20% of that figure has been administered, UDOH reports.

“Shipped” doesn’t always mean “arrived,” said Jenny Johnson, a UDOH spokeswoman — and, because of logistical hurdles, sometimes the lag time between when the vaccines are shipped and when doses can be put in someone’s arm can be as long as a week. Now that long-term care facilities are giving out doses of the vaccine, that gap should close in the next few days, Johnson said.

For the past week, 24.7% of all tests have come back positive — a rising rate that suggests a growing number of infected people are not being tested, state officials have said.

There were 7,347 new test results reported Tuesday, below the weeklong average of about 8,400 new tests per day.

Beaver, Millard and Sanpete counties had the worst rates of new cases per capita, with 1 in 48, 49 and 52 residents per capita testing positive for the virus in the past two weeks — which means their cases are considered “active.”

Those rates rise to 1 in 42 residents with active infections within the towns of the Sanpete Valley, and 1 in 44 residents in the Delta-Fillmore area. But that represents a steady decline in the Sanpete Valley, where less than a week ago 1 in 34 residents had active infections — the highest rate of any Utah community since the pandemic began.

Locally, more than 1 in 70 residents had active infections in six 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: Eagle Mountain and the Cedar Valley; Salem City; Lehi; and Saratoga Springs.

UTAH’S COVID-19 DEATH TOLL RISES BY 16

The 16 Utahns whose deaths were reported Tuesday were:

• A Box Elder County woman between the ages of 45 and 64.

• A Cache County man older than 85.

• A Davis County man older than 85.

• A Kane County man between 65 and 84.

• Two Salt Lake County women, one between 25 and 44, the other between 45 and 64.

• Three Salt Lake County men, all between 65 and 84.

• A Uintah County man between 45 and 64.

• Three Utah County residents: A man between 65 and 84, a man older than 85, and a woman between 65 and 84.

• Two Washington County men, one between 45 and 64, the other between 65 and 84.

• A Weber County woman, between 65 and 84.

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