Utah Gov. Spencer Cox announced on Friday he will sign an executive order outlining the state’s vaccination rollout for schools and long-term care facilities amid a “post-holiday surge” of coronavirus cases throughout the state.
Beginning on Monday, teachers and school faculty will be eligible to receive the vaccine, according to the governor, who during a press conference on Friday encouraged school districts to prioritize teachers and frontline staff “by age and comorbidities.”
Additionally, beginning on Jan. 18, anyone aged 70 or older will be eligible to sign up to be vaccinated.
Cox, who noted that 40% of Utah’s COVID-19 deaths occur in long-term care facilities, said that, by the end of Friday, vaccines will have been administered at 153 of 353 long-term care facilities in Utah. All 353 facilities will have received the vaccine by Jan. 23.
Vaccine distribution in Utah got off to a slow start after Utah and other states received fewer vaccine doses than they had anticipated. As of Friday, 89,431 vaccine doses have been administered.
“It is no secret that every state and just about every country in the world is behind on their distribution of these lifesaving drugs,” the governor said.
The state “will also be focusing on vaccination sites in our minority communities,” Cox said, adding that “we must take extra caution not to make the same mistakes we made early in the pandemic without having testing sites available in those areas.”
Cox urged Utahns who have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past 90 days to wait to get vaccinated since “we should use that vaccine for people who have not had the virus and do not have any immunity.”
“We have to be much more practical about our application of this virus,” the governor said. “While we don’t know how long immunity to the virus lasts after receiving it, we have enough data to show that re-infection is very, very, very rare.”
Each of the 13 local health districts in Utah will be responsible for vaccine rollout, which Cox said will each be capable of administering between 50,000 and 100,000 vaccine doses per week.
“The other reason that this is important is to simplify the understanding of those of us who are going to be getting the vaccine to know where to get that vaccination,” he said. “By doing it by health district, we then base everything on geography. So we don’t have multiple providers, we don’t have people signing up at five different areas to get the vaccine, which will only clog up the system and make it more difficult to know where and who should be getting it and when they should be getting it.”
Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson said she will be responsible for ensuring that “all of our vaccine doses are administered each week,” adding that she will visit vaccination sites throughout Utah in the coming weeks “to see how vaccine administration is going, to see what state resources are needed, to remove barriers and make sure that there is a smooth administration process of vaccines.”
The vaccine rollout plan was introduced amid a surge in coronavirus cases following the December holidays.
On Friday, the Utah Department of Health reported 3,793 new cases and a seven-day positivity rate of 32.7%, an increase from last week’s 26.8% positivity rate, and 92% ICU bed utilization.
“Effectively our ICUs across the state are full,” State Epidemiologist Angela Dunn said at the press conference. “This is the spike from our winter holidays. And we’re continuing to be in a very high-risk situation for spread.”
Dunn said it is clear that Utahns have “let our guard down” and urged residents to continue wearing masks, staying home and following other public health guidelines.
“And there is a lot of excitement about the vaccine, but we need to come together again,” the state epidemiologist said. “We need to focus on what we can do as individuals to protect our hospitals by preventing the spread of COVID.”
Cox said on Friday that he does not have any immediate plans to implement additional restrictions or guidelines.