Health district extends vaccination hours with all reservation slots full in Washington, Iron counties

ST. GEORGE — The Southwest Utah Public Health Department is extending COVID-19 vaccination hours the week after next to accommodate the hours of K-12 teachers and staff who may have not had the availability to get a reservation to be vaccinated by the 4 p.m. closure time of the vaccination centers.  

A vial of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine seen in late-December 2020. | Photo courtesy of Intermountain Healthcare, St. George News

And the extended hours may be needed as there is a “sold out” sign for vaccinations in Washington and Iron counties, where every reservation slot for vaccinations next week is full. 

This comes as the new governor of Utah, saying he is “disappointed” by the pace of vaccinations in the state, issued a set of orders that puts time limits on how long local health districts can keep COVID-19 vaccine supplies before administering them and set Jan. 18 as the first day everyone 70 and over in the state can get the vaccine. 

The vaccine news is tempered by the news from the Utah Department of Health that as the post-holiday surge is in its early stages, all intensive care units at hospitals in the state are “effectively full” – with the state epidemiologist adding that unlike the Thanksgiving holiday, Utahns did not heed the advice to avoid gatherings for Christmas and New Year’s.

This is the spike. It’s clear we’ve let our guard down,” Dr. Angela Dunn, the state epidemiologist, said. “There’s a lot of excitement with the vaccine but we need to come together again and see what we can do to stem this.” 

‘This is what we will be judged by’

In the first COVID-19 press briefing of his governorship, Gov. Spencer Cox said it was “no secret” that he was disappointed in the pace of vaccine distribution in the state.

Utah Gov. Spencer J. Cox, right, arrives for a COVID-19 briefing at the Utah State Capitol. Jan. 8, 2021, Salt Lake City, Utah | Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News/Associated Press, St. George News

Cox said local health districts are letting vaccine supplies “sit on the shelf.” He also said he was disappointed that local health districts were taking time off for weekends and holidays when vaccine was still sitting unused and not administered in freezers and refrigerators.

“There is nothing more important in our careers than what we are doing right now. This is what we will be judged by. This is what the world has been waiting for,” Cox said. “This virus does not take weekends off and neither should we. There should not be people off while vaccines sit on the shelf.”

Cox added that local health departments shouldn’t be stockpiling vaccine supplies at this point. “We expect every local health department will run out of vaccine each week,” Cox said. “This process will ensure Utahns know where to get the vaccine, when to get it and that it won’t be sitting on the shelf.”

In his executive order, local health districts are now required to administer each dose of vaccine within seven days of its arrival. The order said if a health district does not comply and administer the vaccines in time, the remaining supply is subject to redistribution by the state and a health district may see its vaccine supplies reduced or eliminated.

Rossina Lake, a spokeswoman for Cox, said the state will not take over vaccine distribution in areas that don’t comply.

“The vaccine provider will continue offering vaccines and will be able to receive them according to how many vaccines they actually distribute,” Lake said.

David Heaton, spokesperson for the Southwest Utah Public Health Department, said the local district serving Southern Utah is already in compliance.

“So far, we’ve been able to keep that timeline,” Heaton said. 

FILE: The first supply of the COVID-19 vaccine in Utah is opened up at Utah Valley Hospital in Provo, Utah on Dec. 14, 2020. | Photo courtesy of Intermountain Healthcare, St. George News

As of Thursday, the Southwest Utah Public Health Department had received 13,125 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine and administered 4,032 of them. The department has also not been holding vaccine clinics on weekends.

The Utah Department of Health said Friday statistics for health district vaccine distribution was not available because of “data quality assurance” issues.

Cox said help may be on the way in the form of a large vaccine distribution from the federal government, which is ultimately responsible for distributing the vaccine supply to states, later this month. 

A spokesperson for President-elect Joe Biden said Friday that they will be breaking from a policy held by the previous administration where half of the vaccine supplies have been held back in storage by the federal government. Utah officials have complained about receiving 40% less vaccine doses than they were told they would receive. 

The Biden spokesperson said as soon as Jan. 20, all of the remaining vaccine supply in the government’s hands will be distributed to the states, and Cox said Utah will be ready for the large influx of vaccine doses coming all at once.

“We are prepared and will be ready when and if that occurs. We are working to distribute as much vaccine as they can give us,” Cox said, adding that Utah will be in a better position to ask for more vaccine supplies if it depletes them quicker. “It’s hard to argue we should get more when we still have vaccines.”

Date set for those over 70 to start getting vaccine

Cox also ordered that all people in Southern Utah and aged 70 and over be made eligible on Jan. 18 to receive the coronavirus vaccine.

Stock photo. | Photo by Ridofranz/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

This will greatly increase the number of those eligible to receive the vaccine, which Cox said was around 240,000 Utahns.

On Thursday,  appointment slots were opened up for teachers and staff at K-12 schools locally to receive the vaccine next week. The slots hat previously been opened up for first responders and medical workers not working at any of the local hospitals.  

By Friday morning, every slot in Washington and Iron counties was full. 

The group representing area teachers also took issue on Thursday with the vaccine clinic hours provided by the Southwest Utah Public Health Department, going no later than 4 p.m., in Washington and Iron counties and no later than 1:30 p.m., in the other three area counties. 

However, St. George News has learned that the Southwest Utah Public Health Department will be holding an extended-hours vaccination clinic in Washington County on Jan. 19 that will last until 7 p.m.

It’s unclear if those hours will apply in Iron County or any other county and if there will be additional reservation slots and hours added for next week.

The health district has said the current process for making reservations online being used by the school staff will be the same for first responders, medical workers, those over 70 and the rest of Southern Utah’s population. 

On Friday, Cox set the goal for everyone over 70 in the state wanting a vaccine to have one by the end of February. He added that the next group in line after that will be those ages 65 and over.

Stock photo. | Photo by lucigerma/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

Cox’s order also said local health districts need to discourage people who have had COVID-19 within the last 90 days to receive the vaccine.

Studies have indicated that even those who have had COVID-19 should get the vaccine, as the vaccine creates a larger amount of antibodies that may last years, as opposed to 90 days to eight months with infection alone. 

Tom Hudachko, spokesperson with the Utah Department of Health, said it is a temporary measure to ensure those needing immunity the most get it first.

“While we have very limited number doses, people who have built some natural immunity through past infection should wait to be vaccinated,” Hudachko said. “This is consistent with how vaccine providers are currently operating.”

Long-term care centers nearly halfway done with vaccinations

Staff and residents at long-term care centers and nursing homes, including those in Southern Utah, have been having vaccines administered separately through teams from national pharmacy chains Walgreens and CVS, as per directives from the federal government.

Markers indicating long-term care centers in Washington and Iron County with COVID-19 outbreaks according to the Utah Department of Health as of Jan. 8, 2021. | Diagram courtesy of Utah Department of Health, St. George News | Click to enlarge

Cox said he met with representatives from the two chains earlier in the week and said he received assurance that all vaccinations at long-term care facilities will be completed by Jan. 23. He added that at this point, 153 of the 353 state-sanctioned long-term care centers in the state have completed their vaccinations.

It’s unknown how many local nursing homes that includes. According to the Utah Department of Health, there are presently 13 long-term care centers in Southern Utah with outbreaks, including 11 in Washington County.

Free testing made easier for Southern Utah residents

The ability for local residents to get tested for COVID-19 has become a little easier – especially on the nostrils.

The TestUtah sites, which are providing free COVID-19 testing even if symptom-free, has now switched to a saliva-based PCR test that has quicker results. This test requires a person to spit into a vial rather than have a long cotton swab stuck up the nose.

The test has already been in use at Intermountain Healthcare’s testing sites locally and can have a quicker turnaround time for results compared to the 48 to 72-hour wait of the previous test. 

Those wanting to reserve a time for the test at either the St. George TestUtah site at Dixie Tech or the Beaver High School location should go to this link.

Getting the COVID-19 Vaccine

  • Those who can currently get the vaccine: K-12 teachers and staff, those that work in non-hospital health care facilities (those in clinics, pharmacies, dentists or other medical offices); First responders including law enforcement, firefighters and EMTs.
  • Must register in advance online for an appointment time. Walk-ins will not be accepted.
  • Must have a personal ID, employment ID and wear a short-sleeve shirt at appointment.
  • Vaccines through the Southwest Utah Public Health Department are free of charge.

Washington County:

Where: Southwest Utah Public Health Department St. George office, 620 S 400 East, 2nd Floor Conference Room, St. George, 84770.

When: Monday Jan. 11 to Thursday Jan. 14, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Reservation slots on Jan. 19 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. will be added shortly.

(All slots are full) Click to register

Iron County:

Where: Southwest Utah Public Health Department Cedar City office, 260 DL Sargent Dr., Cedar City, 84721.

When: Monday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

(All slots are full) Click to register

Kane County:

Where: Southwest Utah Public Health Department Kanab office, 445 N. Main St., Kanab 84741.

When: Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Click to register

Garfield County:

Where: Southwest Utah Public Health Department Panguitch office, 601 Center St. Panguitch 84759.

When: Monday, 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Click to register

Beaver County:

Where: Southwest Utah Public Health Department Beaver Office,  75 1175 North, Beaver 84713.

When: Tuesday 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Click to register

COVID-19 information resources

St. George News has made every effort to ensure the information in this story is accurate at the time it was written. However, as the situation and science surrounding the coronavirus continues to evolve, it’s possible that some data has changed.

Check the resources below for up-to-date information and resources.

Southern Utah coronavirus count (as of Jan. 8 2020, seven-day average in parentheses)

Positive COVID-19 tests: 20,671 (252.7 new infections per day in seven days, rising since Jan. 7)

County-by-county numbers are one day behind.

  • Washington County: 15,725 (172.7 per day, falling)
  • Iron County: 3,486 (49.4 per day, rising)
  • Kane County: 348 (2.7 per day, rising)
  • Garfield County: 342 (5.7 per day, rising)
  • Beaver County: 436 (4.9 per day, falling)

New infections for major Southern Utah cities (numbers released ahead of Southern Utah numbers):

  • St. George: 134 (rising)
  • Washington City: 34 (steady)
  • Hurricane/LaVerkin: 16 (falling)
  • Ivins City/Santa Clara: 19 (steady)
  • Cedar City: 52 (falling)

Deaths: 156 (2.7 per day, rising)

  • Washington County: 129 (2 new since Jan. 7 report: Hospitalized male 45-64, hospitalized male 65-84)
  • Iron County: 16 
  • Garfield County: 7 
  • Kane County: 2
  • Beaver County: 2

Hospitalized: 60 (falling)

Active cases: 8,631 (rising)

Current Utah seven-day average: 3,051 (falling)

Vaccines distribution to Southern Utah data unavailable Friday

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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