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Utah leaders eager for vaccine as COVID-19 deaths top 1,000

FILE: Tom Hudachko, director of communications for the Utah Department of Health, left, speaks with Joe Dougherty, director of public affairs for the Utah Department of Public Safety, as officials hold a background briefing on COVID-19 vaccine distribution at the Capitol Emergency Operations Center in the state Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020. Photo: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — More than 1,000 people have died from COVID-19 so far in Utah, just one more reason why state leaders are eager to start distributing the vaccine, potentially as soon as next week. 

COVID-19 vaccine timeline in Utah

The Food and Drug Administration meets Thursday to discuss possible approval for a vaccine, but a decision could come later — for example, over the weekend or early next week. According to the Utah Department of Health, the state does not yet have any doses of the first vaccine under consideration, which is from Pfizer, but expects to get it as soon as it’s approved. 

However, as Utah approached that grim milestone of 1,000 deaths, state leaders looked forward to vaccine distribution. 

Thursday morning, Gov. Gary Herbert, Gov.-elect Spencer Cox, and state health officials addressed the public live to update the situation. You can watch the video below. 

Herbert addressed the order in which Utahns can receive vaccines. As expected health care workers topped the list, along with long-term care facility residents, but Herbert announced teachers would be included in the first tier of vaccine recipients in order to hopefully help keep schools open and children learning. 

1,000 deaths 

As of Thursday, 1,016 Utahns had died because of COVID-19, 554 were receiving treatment in hospitals, and 220 were receiving treatment in intensive care units. 

Dr. Angela Dunn, state epidemiologist, was concerned about how many have died in a short period of time. 

“This is the third day in a row we’ve reported 20 deaths in a single day,” Dunn said. “This is definitely related to the November surge we saw in cases.”   

The more than 1,000 deaths represent a cross-section of Utah residents. Salt Lake County has lost the highest number of residents, 459, but of the 13 regional health departments that cover the state, not a single one had no deaths.

The dead range in age from under one to over 85; however, the health department does not provide an exact count for deaths under the age of 14 to protect privacy — its data dashboard says instead that fewer than five people between ages 1 and 14 have died, and fewer than give people under the age of 1 have died. 

The state considers around 165,000 of the more than 225,000 Utahns who tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic “recovered.” However, some experience long-lasting effects even months later. 

Automated contact tracing 

Dr. Dunn said a new form of contact tracing would soon be available, using text messaging. 

Starting tomorrow, Utahns should receive a text message with a link to the form to opt-in. 

“Contact tracing helps us identify people who really need to get tested,” Dunn said. 

Both she and Herbert thanked Utahns who limited gatherings and exposure in the weeks before Thanksgiving, saying that helped limit the post-Thanksgiving case surge they expected. 

The good news extended to both overall cases and the positivity rate in Utah. 

“Both are up slightly, but it is not nearly the surge we were expecting post-Thanksgiving,” Dunn said. 

How To Prevent the Spread of COVID-19 Coronavirus

COVID-19 coronavirus spreads person to person, similar to the common cold and the flu. So, to prevent it from spreading:

  • Wash hands frequently and thoroughly, with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds.
  • Don’t touch your face.
  • Wear a mask to protect yourself and others per CDC recommendations.
  • Keep children and those with compromised immune systems away from someone who is coughing or sneezing (in this instance, at least six feet).
  • If there is an outbreak near you, practice social distancing (stay at home, instead of going to the movies, sports events, or other activities).
  • Obtain a flu shot.

Local resources

KSL Coronavirus Q&A 

Utah’s Coronavirus Information 

Utah State Board of Education

Utah Hospital Association

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Utah Coronavirus Information Line – 1-800-456-7707

National Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Commonly asked questions, World Health Organization

Cases in the United States

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