Summit County’s COVID cases have fallen sharply while vaccinations ramp up
Vaccine hesitation in other counties has increased county’s supply
Summit County’s COVID-19 case rates are the best they’ve been since mid-October, an encouraging sign that, according to the county’s health director, indicates public health measures are working.
“I feel really good about where we are right now,” Rich Bullough said Thursday. “… At the core of this, it’s our behaviors.”
While case counts are falling, vaccinations are increasing. A recent bump in supply is allowing the county to accelerate its vaccination campaign for people 70 and older as it prepares to begin offering doses to those between 65 and 69 after Gov. Spencer Cox broadened the age eligibility Thursday.
Bullough attributed the positive trend in case numbers to a confluence of factors including increased and consistent adherence to public health protocols like mask wearing, and the increasing number of people who have some level of protection from the disease either through vaccination or from having had COVID.
The number of people protected against COVID is poised to continue to increase, as the state has seen a steady rise in the number of doses it receives from the federal government, and a one-shot vaccine manufactured by Johnson & Johnson is expected to be approved for use in coming weeks.
Bullough said that county officials now anticipate the local 70-and-older population will receive vaccinations sooner than originally anticipated.
“We have advanced that timeline,” he said. “I’m actually quite hopeful those people 70-plus that want a vaccine, the majority, the vast majority are going to be by the end of February.”
He said those appointments would likely stretch into the first or second week of March, but that officials were working to move later vaccine appointments to an earlier date.
With case rates falling and vaccinations increasing, Bullough said the situation was positive, but that conditions could change.
“Whether or not we’ve turned a corner, I don’t know, but right now, every indicator is hopeful,” he said.
Bullough said that a feared spike in cases after the Super Bowl has so far not materialized, indicating that people are adhering to guidelines more effectively than earlier this winter.
Summit County’s cases rose in mid-October to a plateau of around 25 to 30 new cases each day, according to county data. That maintained until a massive spike in late December that crested and began to decline around Jan. 10.
At its height in early January, the county was experiencing an average of 62 new cases per day. But now, that number is below 20.
Bullough advised people to continue to wear masks, avoid groups and wash hands frequently, saying this isn’t the time to ease up on the restrictions that have tamped down the pandemic.
On Thursday, Cox announced that Utahns 65 and older would be eligible to receive a vaccine, two weeks before the March 1 date he had originally set. The change is part of a broader strategy to increase the amount of vaccine the state receives from federal distributors by demonstrating Utah’s ability to vaccinate more people than its supply allows.
Bullough said that it appears the strategy is working, and indicated that Biden administration officials have said they would begin distributing vaccine doses based on demand rather than solely on census numbers.
Utah is one of the nation’s leaders in vaccine distribution, Bullough said. The state ranks fourth when measured by the amount of vaccine administered as a percentage of the total doses received.
He indicated the state is well positioned to receive more doses per capita than states that haven’t distributed the vaccine as quickly.
A similar dynamic has played out within the state’s boundaries, as well. Summit County received 1,900 doses over a two-week stretch — the most to date — after other counties said they were having trouble administering the doses they received within the one-week window mandated by the state.
Bullough said Summit County has benefited from vaccine hesitancy in other counties, after state officials moved those doses elsewhere.
Bullough said that the state receives around 50,000 doses per week, which is up significantly from late January. He added that Summit County is expecting to receive an average of around 700 doses weekly.
He said the supply might skyrocket at the end of March, up to five times what is available now. That would be welcome news, as there are more than 5,000 people in the next group eligible to receive the vaccine, Bullough said. That includes those 65 and older and, starting March 1, individuals with specific medical conditions.
To register to receive a vaccine, visit summitcountyhealth.org/vaccine/.
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