SALT LAKE CITY — Utah will now offer COVID-19 vaccines for people over the age of 50, Governor Spencer Cox announced.
The state will also expand the criteria for people over age 16 with co-morbidities to include Type I and II diabetes, as well as those considered obese with a BMI of 30 or greater. (Click here to see the other qualifying conditions.)
"We have at every turn worked to speed up eligibility when possible. I’m pleased to announce today is that day," Gov. Cox told reporters at a news conference Thursday.
The governor urged those who will be eligible to receive vaccinations to wait until March 8 to schedule appointments. Salt Lake County health officials said vaccine appointments for the new age group will be available starting at 3 p.m. Thursday.
The expanded criteria was because the Johnson & Johnson version of the vaccine is now in Utah. At the pace the state is moving, the governor expressed hope that vaccines could be offered to more people much sooner than expected.
"If we continue to get the vaccines we think we’re going to get and we continue to move through and we’re able vaccinate this category, we wanticipate and hope by April, the beginning of April, we’ll open up eligibility for every adult in Utah," he said.
State epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn urged Utahns to get the vaccine when it is offered to them.
"We can end this pandemic sooner," she said. "And it’s going to take everyone getting the vaccine when it’s available to them and that’s how we will stop this pandemic and save lives."
Lt. Governor Deidre Henderson said the state has created a "road map" to ensure all Utahns get the vaccine, with an increased focus on communities and people who might fall through the cracks.
"Our goal is to make sure vaccines are administered fairly and equitably and that everyone who wants a vaccine can get one regardless of who they are and where they live," she said.
Because of declining case counts, a number of counties moved to a "moderate" transmission level, which means health restrictions can be loosened. As FOX 13 first reported on Thursday, that includes Salt Lake and Davis counties.
The biggest change is that entertainment venues can return to full capacity — so long as everyone is masked. There are still some capacity restrictions on restaurants, and the mask mandate remains in place.
"Salt Lake County has come a long way since the first known COVID-19 case here a year ago. I am so grateful that County residents have prioritized safety, have limited their social interactions, and have been willing to wear masks," Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson said in a statement to FOX 13. "These efforts are paying off as evidenced by the drop in COVID cases. Additionally, thousands of vaccines are administered each day which brings us closer to recovery from COVID. Even so, for the time being, we need to continue wearing masks and practice social distancing. I look forward to enjoying a summer with fewer restrictions and more time with loved ones, and I’m thrilled this is on the horizon for all residents of Salt Lake County."
On Utah's Capitol Hill, Senate President J. Stuart Adams pumped his fist at the news.
"Great news! It couldn’t get any better," Sen. Adams, R-Layton, told reporters.
Despite what's happening, some in the Utah State Legislature have complained it's not happening fast enough. The House passed a bill dubbed the COVID-19 "endgame" that lifts restrictions once thresholds are met for vaccinations and hospitalizations.
Other lawmakers have proposed amendments to bills that would lift the statewide mask mandate immediately, like other states have done.
Senate Republican and Democratic leadership signaled they would not support that, worried it might trigger a spike in virus cases.
"We have to be cautious and we have to be careful and not allow something to derail that train," said Senate Majority Leader Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City.
Gov. Cox also had concerns.
"We’re so close to the end of this," he said.