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Governor's Monthly News Conference

"I am very excited to announce that as we continue to see our weekly allocations of doses increase, that I am announcing that as of right now, immediately, Utah adults ages 65 to 69 are now eligible to receive the vaccine." Governor Cox

NARRATOR:  "PBS Utah" presents the Governor's Monthly News Conference, an exchange between Utah reporters and governor Spencer Cox. 

GOVERNOR COX: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome. It's great to be with you again, it's hard to believe that it's been a month since we were, we were last together, but we have some important announcements today. I'm going to spend some time at the beginning talking about a Coronavirus update, as well as vaccine update. And then I'm happy to, to take questions.

So, first of all, we have made incredible progress over the past month, and especially over the past week when it comes to vaccinating all of Utah's adults aged 70 and over. In fact, as of this morning, we have, we have vaccinated approximately 62% of those that are 70 and over with their, their first doses. Some counties are actually pushing the high sixties and low seventies, which we know there's a spot where we're seeing a softening and that is already happening as we reach the end of those who want to get the vaccine who are age 70 and over. And so, as a result of that, I am very excited to announce that we, as we continue to see our weekly allocations of doses increase, that I am announcing that as of right now, immediately, Utah adults ages 65 to 69 are now eligible to receive the vaccine.

That being said, some counties have more doses available than others right now. So, it will still be we encourage patients. There will be some counties where it's harder to get an appointment right now. We were scheduling to do this on March 1st but we are moving it up. So, we always want demand to outpace supply. That's how we make sure that every vaccine is being used, that we always have vaccines in arms instead of on shelves. It's important to know that again, all of our vaccine providers should now accept anyone 65 years and older. Appointment availability will vary throughout the state, but they're working hard to get more and more people through every day. You can visit coronavirus.utah.gov/vaccine to find out more information on how to schedule an appointment. And I can't emphasize this enough. 

We will ask for your continued patience as this will flood phone lines and servers and more and more people will be trying to sign up as those slots become available, those 65 and over will be able to get those. If you can't find an appointment immediately, keep trying and eventually you will get your turn. 

Now I announced a couple weeks ago that people with certain underlying medical conditions would also soon be eligible to receive that vaccine. That date was also March 1st, that date will continue to be March 1st. So those with those underlying health conditions, there's a list again coronavirus.utah.gov. You can go in there and see every underlying comorbidity or health condition and who qualifies for those. You will still qualify on March 1st to do that. This helps us in a couple ways.

One again, it makes sure we're able to fill all appointments with those 65 and over. It also gives us a little bit of time. That was, those two, those two categories combined, 65 and older and underlying health conditions, it was about 400,000 people. By splitting it up this way, we'll be able to move people through a little more easily and again, make sure that starting on March 1st, that those with those comorbidities will qualify. So, I hope that that's clear to everyone.

Again, we'll have some time for questions, just a couple other updates that I think are important. Our case counts and percent positivity and hospitalizations are all decreasing. This is very, very good news for our state. They're still high, but much much lower than our peaks of, of December and early January and trending in the right direction. In fact, our numbers look a lot more like they looked in September, which is good news, but we would rather they look like they did in July and March and April. So, we're working to get those down. 

We've conducted 3.6 million tests and really want to highlight the testing is still the very best way to identify positive cases so that people can isolate and stop transmitting the virus to others. So, if you do have any symptoms, please get a test. Again, coronavirus@utah.gov, there is a list of places you can get a test but you don't need to have symptoms to get a test. If you've been in close contact with anyone who has had, who has contracted the virus, you can get tested. We have testing happening in lots of different places for lots of different reasons, and we have tests available. So please, please don't hesitate to get tested.

In our transmission index this week, six counties have improved certain key measures and it moved from high to moderate transmission. We now have eight counties in moderate and five counties in low. These, it's important to note that these six counties would have moved to moderate, even if we had not changed the transmission index last week. And we made that change based on percent positivity. We're now measuring two distinct ways of percent positivity. We talked about that in some of our past measures but you can learn more about that as well at coronavirus.utah.gov.

Also, important to note, we are seeing 91% of our long-term care facility residents getting vaccinated. That's a really important number because the highest amount of deaths have come from our long-term care facilities, about 40%. It's been a while since I've checked that number, but I know it's around 40% and so getting 91% of them vaccinated is a really, really big deal. Again, having close now, close to 60% or over 60% of those aged 70 and older getting vaccinated is a big deal because they make up about 70% of the the total deaths in our state, about 73%. And now going to 65, that's another 4% of the deaths, just 65 to 69, which is the next highest category.

So, as you can see, we're methodically, via vaccination, targeting those who are most at risk, which will cut down on hospitalizations and deaths and allow us to get back to normal more quickly. We, I would also note that of the 39 states that we've been able to find that are listing the deaths within their long-term care facilities, Utah has the lowest mortality rate, which is just, just again, really, really positive news. And we're heading in a great direction there.

All of that being said, and if Doctor Dunn were here today, she would tell you and she would have me tell you that it is not a good time to let up on the things that keep us safe and protect us, that will continue to drive down those rates and hospitalizations and deaths, including, especially, mask wearing.

The COVID-19 variants that we're starting to see do pose a real threat. And we still have a way to go before we can remove that mandate. We're getting closer every day. And we'll continue to look very closely at those measures and metrics. And again, working with the legislature on those changes as they become more viable as we get control of this virus and more and more people get vaccinated.

Finally, I'll just conclude with some numbers. We now have administered 563,608 doses of the vaccine, that includes the first and second doses. A week ago today, our total doses administered was 462,000, and that's a weekly increase of almost 101,000 doses, which again is remarkable in some numbers we've never seen in the history of our state in such a short amount of time. So far, our single dose administration record was 24,618 on February 11th. And we are still using every vaccine within seven days of its receipt, which was the goal when we started, our administration started the first week in January. We're very pleased with where we are. We're excited now to open this up to 65 and older, and we're, we're excited to see the results of all these vaccinations.

With that, we're ready to take some questions.

KATIE MCKELLAR, DESERET NEWS: Governor, do you want anything changed in the current version of the bill that came out this week to limit powers during a long-term emergency?

GOVERNOR COX: So, we are working very closely with the legislature on this limitation, as it's been said on the powers of local governments or of the executive branch of state government to issue emergency orders. I think it's really important to point out a couple of things with this.

First of all, the legislature has the power to make these changes. There's no question about that. That is not in debate. The idea philosophically behind emergency powers are this. The legislative branch gives their power to the executive because the nature of a legislative branch is that it is very difficult to bring people together in an emergency and to act quickly. There's nothing quick about what happens in the legislature, although we do have a 45-day session and a lot happens in 45 days, some, like me, would argue that too much happens within those 45 days, but it's a very very important function and it is their function.

So, what they're saying is, during an emergency, we're going to willingly give away the legislative branch's powers to the executive branch to make decisions unilaterally to protect the safety of the people of our state or of an individual community. That balance is very important and very critical. And I recognize that that power that I have comes directly from the legislature. What I've encouraged them all along is to not overreact to something that happens every 100 years. We have made mistakes during this pandemic, for sure.

I would argue that one of the mistakes that we made was not communicating better with the legislature about changes that were happening. We would often communicate with legislative leadership, but as any member of the legislature will tell you, that legislative leadership is not the legislature. And we have, over the past couple months, done a much better job of that. 

So, I have appeared directly, which rarely happens with any of my predecessors. I've gone directly to legislative bodies to talk to them about what we're doing. I did it just a couple of weeks ago, meeting with the majority caucuses and the minority caucuses of both the Senate and the House, doing it again next week. And so, we are improving that communication.

We have been directly engaged in negotiations on the emergency powers bill. There have been lots of changes made at our request. We will continue those negotiations. We'll do those privately and when the final version of that bill comes out, we'll let you know whether we support it or not. I think that's the better way to negotiate these. And so we will continue to do that.

We, again, we respect the legislature and what they're attempting to do here. And by the way, I have to just be honest, it would be much easier if the legislature would do more of this. There's this belief out there that governors love executive orders, and governors love emergency powers, and governors love making all these decisions. And let me categorically tell you that the last year, and if Governor Herbert were here, he would tell you was the worst, one of the worst years of his life. It was one of the worst years of my life. It was the one of the worst years of everyone's lives here in the state of Utah. And we had to make decisions that no governor should ever have to make about saving lives and saving livelihoods.

Nobody relishes this, nobody enjoys it. And I will also say, and I will remind the legislature that they now have the ability to call themselves into session at any time and overrule any order that has been done from the very beginning. They have that authority now. They don't need a bill to change that. And I will also note that they failed to exercise that authority at almost every turn because they didn't want to make these decisions either. And so, it's a really, really difficult position to be in. And so, we will work together.

I do think that the emergency order, the power that exists now never contemplated emergencies that lasted for a year. That was not contemplated. It's not something we really thought of. Emergencies or something that happen in a week or a month or two, right? If we have wildfires, we have floods, we have earthquakes, those are the things we normally thought of. And so, I agree and I've said from the beginning that we should examine this and make it better for both the executive branch and the legislative branch to function over the course of something that lasts this long.

KATIE MCKELLAR, DESERET NEWS: The quick follow-up, I mean, governor, 30 days seems like a blip of time when you think about all that's changed over the course of the pandemic. Is that time limit in that bill a safe limit on executive powers?

GOVERNOR COX: Well, those are discussions again that we're still having. 30 days is, it seems like a short amount of time right now, but I will tell you in March, 30 days seemed like a year. And so there, this is the type of thing though, where now, especially with the tools we have, and let me be clear. That's one of the things that has changed, right? 10 years ago, in a pandemic, we could not have safely brought the legislature together. And that would have made it incredibly difficult and incredibly damaging, right? We would have been putting their health at risk and that would not be advisable. And so now we have though electronic tools that do allow them to come together and meet and to make decisions and to do what legislators are supposed to do. And so, whether 30 days is the right number, or 60 days is the right number, there's a number in there, and we'll continue to work to figure out which is the right one. 

MICHAEL LOCKLEAR, KUTV: Back on vaccinations, governor. In terms of the 65 plus and the folks with underlying health conditions, do you have an estimate on how long they'll take? And people always want to know what's next. I know you haven't announced the next groups but what are you considering?

GOVERNOR COX: Yeah, so again, it's really just a math issue for us. So, we know that, and I apologize, I should have these numbers top of mind, but it's about 130,000 people ages 65 to 69, okay? And so, we're now getting about 45,000 first doses of vaccine a week, right? So, you start to, you can start to do the math there a little bit. We know 100% of those, they're not going to choose to get the vaccine. So, is it 65, 70% somewhere in there? How long does it take you to reach that?

Now we we've already announced the next phase, which are those underlying comorbidities. There's about 220,000 I want to say in that category. So, a really big category. We start them on March 1st now. And, but we're getting, we're getting more doses every week and in March, we're going to keep getting significant increases we've been told by the Biden Administration, especially if Johnson and Johnson comes online, which we should know probably in the next week and a half, I think somewhere in there to two weeks. And so, we anticipate that we will see, we'll be able to go through those 65 to 69 and those comorbidities now into mid to March, late March, somewhere in there, right?

Depending on the amount of doses and what I will tell you, you will see is we will keep doing age-based categories. So, we'll go from 65, next it will be 60 to 64, right? And then 55 to 59. And we will also, and we're working with the experts at the health department to layer in the rest of the comorbidities, those underlying health conditions that aren't as serious as this first wave, but are still serious. And we're doing a complete risk assessment.

So, we really are looking at risk of death and hospitalization, and that's how we're making these decisions. So, there is a point where someone who is younger with one of these underlying health conditions looks like a 59-year-old, right? When you look at the risk categories in Utah and how many people have died and been hospitalized. And so, we will elevate those at the right, at the right level. And that's what people can expect. We do still expect that the numbers we've been talking about, Pfizer and Moderna, agreed to have 200 million doses in the United States. So, a hundred million first doses by the end of March. And we've been told that they are still on track to meet those obligations. Johnson and Johnson, I believe, has guaranteed a hundred million by the 1st of June. And so, if you just start to look at how those layout, we really do anticipate that into April and May, into May, that everyone, every adult who wants a vaccine will, should be eligible for a vaccine unless things change. So, we feel really good about that.

The only thing that could soil this up is, again, the amount of vaccines being produced, if something happens in the production cycle or in the delivery cycle. We did have one little, not little, it's a big issue in shipments with the terrible weather in the Midwest and the South that we had some shipments that were delayed because of trucks couldn't get out and planes getting de-iced and slowed down. So, Saint George Shipment was delayed but that will be made up we're told very quickly. It's just getting the planes out and getting them here. But those are the types of things that could slow that down. However, again, from all the information we're receiving, we're very confident at that May timeline.

RUDY NIEVES, TELEMUNDO UTAH: Please. Good morning, governor Cox. So we know that President Joe Biden will be presenting any minute an immigration reform bill, according to him, that could help a lot of immigrants in the country. Is that something that you will be welcomed to the immigrants in the state of Utah? Or do you have any concerns about that?

GOVERNOR COX: Sure. So obviously, I haven't seen the bill so I don't know what is in that bill, but what I can say is that Utah has a history of working collaboratively on immigration issues. It's now been, gosh, I want to say maybe nine years ago, it was before I was Lieutenant Governor, that the state passed comprehensive immigration reform. Now, unfortunately, that immigration form was never implemented because the Obama Administration refused to allow us to implement that. And, and I will say, that neither did the Trump Administration.

This is not a partisan statement but the federal government has not allowed us to what to do that unfortunately, but I will also say I've always been really amazed and I guess, disturbed, confused, at how we haven't been able to solve the immigration problem. It may surprise people, but immigration really isn't one of the most controversial issues. Now, politicians have made it controversial.

But when you look at polling of average voters, most of them agree. And the two things that they agree on, even Republicans, and this will surprise people, but most people agree that we should make legal immigration easier, that we should fix legal immigration, but most people aren't anti-immigrant, they're anti legal immigrant, but also recognize that there are problems with the immigration system. And so they want to secure the border, they want to fix legal immigration and then they want to make it easier for people that are here to gain some sort of legal status. Now, most of them don't support full citizenship, but they do support some sort of legal status, which is what we did here in Utah, and which is what should be done. And so I do believe that there is room for Republicans and Democrats alike to really work on this issue and to solve this issue, to bring people out from living in the shadows, to help fix the economic aspects of immigration, as well. And to help, especially those kids that have, you know, that have grown up here and have been born here. And so those are the types of principles that I've always believed in, and that the state of Utah has exhibited. And so, I think and I hope, that the administration will be open to collaborating and working on these. And that's how we're going to get to a solution that most people can agree on.

RAEANN CHRISTENSEN, PBS UTAH: Okay, we would like to take a question from one of our remote reporters. So Lisa with Deseret News, go ahead.

LISA RILEY ROCHE, DESERET NEWS: Thank you. Governor Cox, you said you're still very confident Utah can meet that May, end of May timeline for getting a vaccine to every Utahan who wants one. However, this week, President Biden said it's going to take until the end of July for that to happen nationally. There seems to be some concern that the Johnson and Johnson vaccine timeline for ramping up this production and distribution may have been a little overly optimistic at first. They'll still get to the same number of doses but it's going to take a little longer. Does Utah need to revise that timeline? Are you setting some unrealistic expectations here?

GOVERNOR COX: Well, again, we're just taking the information that's been given to us and it was interesting, there were a lot of conflicting reports coming out of the Biden Administration. The CDC Director reported that vaccines would be available April, May timelines for anybody that wanted it. Doctor Scott Gottlieb has talked about how in April, we're going to start having a demand problem more than a supply problem. And then we get these conflicting reports, some vague reports about maybe July. What we've learned from the Biden Administration is they like to under promise and over deliver. And that's not a bad thing. I think lots of people, you know, I mean his goal was to have 100 million doses in a hundred days, but we were already doing more than a million doses a day before he took office. So that's a very underwhelming goal.

We'll revise those timelines as we get hard data. And we have not been given any of that. We are using the hard data that has been given to us from the very beginning. And so we're still very optimistic and unless and until they tell us otherwise, and again, we met with them this week, and they were still very, I mean, this week in our meeting with the Biden Administration, they were talking about the Johnson and Johnson vaccine as if it will receive its approval and that they were still on course for their manufacturing deadlines.

So, we'll revise them as they come. That's what we've done from the very beginning but we're also far ahead of where people thought we would be, far ahead of the projections that were given in December and even into January. And so, we feel very confident about that and where we are, and we'll continue to use those timelines until we're told otherwise

RAEANN CHRISTENSEN, PBS UTAH: Okay, Taylor, with the Salt Lake Tribune, go ahead with your question.

TAYLOR STEVENS, SALT LAKE TRIBUNE: Hi, Governor Cox. Bill passed through the House yesterday that would bar transgender girls from female sports. What is your position on that bill? And if it makes it through the Senate to your desk, will you sign it?

GOVERNOR COX: Thank you, Taylor. I will tell you that this is one of the most complicated and difficult bills that we have this session and it's complicated and difficult for a couple reasons.

One, the main reason that it's complicated and difficult is that both sides of this issue are actually right. And there's a lot of, there's a lot of passion, a lot of fiery rhetoric, a lot of name calling on both sides of this issue that I think is very unfortunate.

So, look, there are biological advantages with your birth gender. That's, those are biological facts and nobody disputes that at all. It is also a fact that women's sports has had a disadvantage for many, many years. We've gotten better, but we still have a ways to go. And so, I want to say this, the bill sponsor is coming from a genuine place of concern. And I don't think demonizing her or her intention is helpful at all. Because again, these are real valid, serious concerns.

And by the way, this is not a Utah issue. This is an issue that every state and every country is working through right now. I mean, at this moment. There is a group of women who have gotten together who are our experts and their work, Martina Navratilova, other, Olympic medalists, PhDs, just over the past week, they've announced, or two weeks, that they're working on trying to figure out this issue because it is a threat to women's sports.

But also, and this is where I think we have to be just so so very careful, is that if you have not spent time with transgender youth, then I would encourage you to pause on this issue. We have so many people that are in a very very difficult spot right now. And we have very few, if any transgender girls, that are participating in sports. We've gotten really good at the LGBTQ side of things. We're struggling on the T side of things and we will work hard on this. I'm still working with the sponsor. We have a meeting today to see if we can figure out a Utah way to solve this issue. And we will have more to come on that.

RAEANN CHRISTENSEN, PBS UTAH: All right, thank you, governor. That's all the time we have for our broadcast portion of this show. To see this full conference, you can go to pbsutah.org and we will see you back here next month.

NARRATOR:  This has been the Governor's Monthly News Conference. For transcripts of video and more information, visit utah.org/governor.

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