SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Spencer Cox said COVID-19 cases are dropping and vaccinations are climbing, meaning Utah could start terminating public health orders soon.
Speaking to reporters at his monthly news conference, the governor backed what legislative leaders told FOX 13 on Wednesday — that COVID-19 health restrictions could be dropped in the next three to four weeks.
"I don’t think it’s too soon. I think it’s great news. I think that’s exciting and the reason that metric is a much better metric than the mask metric," Gov. Cox said. "What I like about this one is the vaccine number is included and that’s the important one, more than anything else."
FOX 13 first reported on Wednesday that under legislation nicknamed the "COVID-19 endgame," public health orders will start to terminate once case rates, hospitalizations and vaccinations achieve certain benchmarks. The bill's most controversial part lifted the statewide mask mandate, something Gov. Cox has been critical of.
So far, the state has already met the case rate and ICU thresholds. The state is in the midst of vaccinating more people.
"Getting those doses, getting people vaccinated and getting people fully vaccinated is our number one goal. The more people we do, the fewer restrictions we will need at all to keep people safe," the governor told reporters.
Gov. Cox did continue to urge people to follow health protocols, and reminded Utahns that private businesses can require masks and physical distancing. The state has already seen incidents where threats have been reported against people who requested customers wear face coverings.
The governor repeated that he would not lift the statewide mask mandate for K-12 schools, despite recent protests and efforts by some parents to send their children to class unmasked.
"I would like nothing more than to be completely done with masks everywhere. That’s our goal. That’s what we’re driving towards. We’re so close, so my encouragement is to stick with us. Let’s finish this out. We’re not going to come back with masks in the fall, we’re going to be done with this, we’re getting there," he said. "If we were take masks away right now there would be a whole bunch of kids who would not be able to come to school and we want kids in school."
On Thursday, Gov. Cox announced a change to who qualifies for a vaccine. Now, people who have had COVID-19 within the past 90 days can be inoculated.
"We do have enough supply. Supply continues to grow and more and more people are getting vaccinated now to allow for this change," he said.
Gov. Cox said the federal government's pause on use of the Johnson & Johnson version of the vaccine is not expected to impact Utah's overall vaccination efforts, as the state had not yet received a lot of doses. But he did warn it could start to impact "frontier" communities with harder-to-access to health care. The governor pointed out only a tiny portion of people had reported blood clots as a result of that vaccine.
"I am fearful that this will have seriously negative connotations with people who are hesitant to get the vaccine in the first place," he cautioned.
The governor said vaccination rates are climbing in minority communities through targeted outreach efforts.
On Thursday, Gov. Cox and First Lady Abby Cox received their second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.