Gov. Spencer Cox pleaded with unvaccinated Utahns to get the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday as the state experiences a surge in cases and braces for the holiday weekend.

State health officials reported a seven-day average of 384 coronavirus cases per day this week, up from 324 cases per day last week and 213 cases per day last month. Many of the new cases are made up of the COVID-19 Delta variant, which Cox said is “more transmissible” than the original virus strain.

“We are seeing an uptick, as you have noticed, not only in case counts, but in hospitalizations,” Cox said at the Thursday press briefing.

The governor noted that, since vaccines became publicly available, 93% of cases have been among unvaccinated people, while 95% of deaths have been among unvaccinated people. These numbers are “exactly in line with the statistics we knew through the trials about the vaccines and their efficacy.”

“So what I am here to say is that 95% of you don’t have to die and 95% of you don’t have to be hospitalized and go through that incredible pain,” he said. “I can’t tell you how demoralizing it is for our frontline health care workers and for families, for everyone.”

Cox called the recent coronavirus deaths and hospitalizations “completely unnecessary” and said he has talked to the families of individuals “who believe some crazy conspiracy theories about the vaccine and who have not gotten vaccinated, who are now dead, or who are now hospitalized or who have long-term effects as COVID long-haulers.”

“There’s just literally no more excuses for the death and hospitalization that we are seeing,” the governor said.

He went on to criticize people “who are completely misunderstanding the risks of harm from a vaccine versus the risks of harm from not getting the vaccine,” noting that “it’s incredible to watch some of the mental gymnastics that people have to go through to try to convince themselves that getting the vaccine is somehow more dangerous than not getting the vaccine.”

As of Thursday, the state reported that 64.8% of adults in Utah have received at least one vaccine dose, though Cox said that number is likely closer to 69.8% when including Utah adults who have been vaccinated by federal agencies. That puts Utah on track to hit its goal of having 70% of adults at least partially vaccinated by July 4.

“We would rather have 99%, 100% of adults in Utah vaccinated,” he said. “That’s how we’re going to reduce death and reduce hospitalization. And so even if we do hit that 70%, that doesn’t mean that’s the endgame. It means we’re just getting started, it means we’re moving in the right direction.”

According to Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, 26.8% of kids ages 12-15 have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

“These are kids who will not have to quarantine if they get exposed to someone who has COVID-19 when they go back to school this fall,” the lieutenant governor said. “So that’s really important, that’s a great incentive for kids and parents to go ahead and get vaccinated.”

Kencee Graves, associate chief medical officer for impatient services at the University of Utah, urged Utahns to get vaccinated and noted that “we are headed into the … highest volume trauma weekend we have every year.”

“I want to be very, very clear about what every one of our staff has not told me, and that is that this is not over,” said Graves. “The vaccine is important, it is what we need to end this, but the COVID-19 pandemic is not over.”

Cox echoed a similar sentiment, stating that he wants people to be “extra cautious” heading into the 4th of July weekend.

“If you are unvaccinated, you should be worried this 4th of July,” he said. “You should be very worried this 4th of July. And, you know, I wouldn’t want to hang out with a whole bunch of unvaccinated people over the 4th. I would be very careful about that. The good news is that you can all get vaccinated before the 4th of July still. We have lots of vaccine clinics going right now.”

Connor Richards covers government, the environment and south Utah County for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at crichards@heraldextra.com and 801-344-2599.

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