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Governor's News Conference

January 22, 2021

"The good news is though, right now we are seeing record vaccinations every day in every one of our local health departments." Governor Cox 

 

ANNOUNCER:  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 have you all here. I want to thank PBS Utah for making this happen, and our media partners for joining us today. I want to talk just a little bit about vaccine distribution before we take questions. When I became governor on January 4th, we made some significant changes to the State's vaccine plan. Our highest priority has always been to protect those that are most vulnerable, to save lives, and reduce the capacity... Increase the capacity in our hospitals, reduce hospitalizations. And so, we made some changes, with those changes I... 

In the order I included that no doses should be on the shelves longer than seven days. What you will find is my sole focus has been on first doses because first doses drive second doses. And every capacity we have to get vaccines out should be focused on those first doses as soon as possible. I'm pleased to report and we've shared this graphic with you, it will be on our coronavirus.utah.gov website for those at home. But we have here something that shows the first doses older than seven days, those that have been delivered.

Our partners have stepped up in a very big way over the last two weeks. For example, right now in our local health departments, which are now driving most of the vaccinations, they have used 94% of the vaccines that are over seven days old. We only have 1800 doses that are over seven days old and those will be used up this week, so they are on track.

Our hospitals have used 92% of those first doses and they are turning over the remaining doses to our local health departments so that we can get those doses out quickly. Our community nursing services have used 100%, they met the goal, and our other partners have used 96%, so we're very close there. Now, I should back up and note that we... There is a Federal partnership, and those Federal partnerships are with some pharmacies here in the State, and this is true across all the States. And that Federal contract is to deliver doses to our long-term care facilities. Now, as of right now, those Federal partners have only used 17% of the doses that are more than seven days old. So, when you look at the numbers and see the glut, the big number out there, that's not with the State that's with those Federal partners.

We anticipate that they have about 26,000 doses that are more than seven days old that have not been used. Now, the good news is they're ramping up and they've assured us that they will be, through the long-term care facilities where they need it within a week, and so we will see a significant reduction in that. That being said, and this is true of every State, they have too much vaccine. The Federal government has given them more vaccine than they need. We are working right now very closely with them this week to peel back, to get those doses, those extra doses back, we believe there are thousands of them, and maybe tens of thousands of them, and redistribute those to our local health departments, so we can get those in the arms of those 70 years old or older.

That's a big change and something that will make a huge difference. But for now, while supplies are tight, we want all available vaccinations to flow through or in coordination with our local health departments, that was another change that we made when I became governor. 

The 13 local health departments have responded in a huge way, and we are assembling a small army of trained volunteers to help them. We told them, wherever there are constraints, any problems you have, let us know. If you need more money, we will write the check. If you need more personnel, we will find personnel for you. If you need technical support, we will get you that technical support. Now I will say, they're not used to having those types of resources available to them, and it's been... It's just been incredible to watch. We've also asked Lieutenant Governor Henderson and Richard Saunders to... Who is the Executive Director of the Department of Health to go and visit all 13 of them and have these conversations. I'm pleased to report that they have made 10 of those visits, they will finish the last three this week. And we have been able to work through some major issues and constraints that they had.

I'll give you just a couple of examples. In Salt Lake County, they needed assistance with data entry. They were delivering more vaccines than it had been reported but they needed to get that data up to date, and we responded in sending them clerical help. We had dozens of volunteers entering thousands of records, data entry records to get them caught up. Some of our rural health departments lacked IT support that they needed to help their websites and call centers keep up with the volume that was coming in. So, the State DTS, the Department of Technology Services worked directly with them to increase their server capacity and even migrate some of their systems onto State servers. One more example, in Utah County, they needed help with personnel, nurses and those with healthcare training to help administer vaccinations in some of their high throughput centers. So, the National Guard has been providing personnel and we are sending three medics to their clinics today to help with those constraints.

Those are the types of things that we're doing to work through these issues, to streamline and smooth things out as we continue to move forward. The good news is though, right now we are seeing record vaccinations every day in every one of our local health departments. 

Now, one more thing that has come up, and that is around second doses. The Federal government has sent us a lot of the second doses. There is a name on every one of those second doses. So, within three weeks to four weeks, depending on which vaccination you got, people are eligible to get those vaccines, and we have a vaccine for them. However, we recognize that as is human nature, there will be people that don't show up for their appointments in three weeks or four weeks, and may take a little more time. Now we encourage people to show up for those second doses because we don't have good data on what happens if people don't get their second doses. But what experts have told us it's not the end of the world, if you miss that deadline, as long as you get it sometime over the few weeks after that, you'll be fine. However, the question is, what do we do with those second doses if people don't show up to get them? 

We made a decision yesterday with... In consultation with our health experts in the State and the health department that we will release those second doses for people who have not showed up to get them within seven days, and those will then become first doses. Now don't worry, it doesn't mean you've lost your chance or your place in line, just schedule and come in, there will be a second dose for you because that same thing will happen every week. There's just a certain percentage of people who won't show up on time to get their second dose, and we don't want those doses to be delayed. So those second doses will then become first doses. And the second dose is for people who don't show up the second week, can then become second doses for the people who didn't show up the first week, but come the second week, if that makes sense. So, we won't have a growing glut of second doses, they will always be repurposed for first doses.

Finally, we are excited about the announcements that are coming in from the new presidential administration from the Biden administration this morning. There were several announcements, we just got those, so we're parsing through them, but they are very good announcements that will certainly help us. Will help us with vaccination problems, will help us with PPP. They're basically doing the same thing that we're doing to our local health departments, and that is saying, hey, let's remove all of these constraints. One good example of this is just reimbursement for our National Guard. This was a constant fight with governors, trying to get the Federal government to give us more help in using the National Guard, and they've announced this morning that that will move from a 75% reimbursement to a 100% reimbursement, which certainly helps us move forward. 

There were several other announcements around vaccines and PPP, all of them are positive announcements that will help us. The next big piece that we're working on with them is to get better insight into the flow of vaccines and how that will increase over time as manufacturing increases and as new manufacturers come on board. Of course, we have two other vaccine candidates that we know are just weeks away from getting approval, that's what we've been told. And we do believe that that will double or more than double the number of first doses that are coming into our State. And we want to be prepared for that when that happens, so that we can move from our 70 and over citizens of the State, to 65 and those with multiple comorbidities. So, we're excited to make those changes and expect that over the next few days, we will get more information from the incoming administration on that rollout. 

The last thing I want us to say is around masks. One of the disappointments we've had at the Federal level is we expected by this point in time that we would have better and higher quality masks available for people, more ubiquitously. Masks are working. Cloth masks work, but they don't work as well as the higher N95 or KN95 masks. As we are so close to the end of this pandemic, as the... As vaccines are becoming more and more available, I would encourage people if you have the resources and can find them to upgrade masks. We wear masks to protect those around us and for my partners who are socially distance and, in the room, today, I want to you know I was also tested today and tested negative, so there is no risk here. But it's important to... If we can upgrade masks, we can protect not just those around us, but we can also protect ourselves, and especially those who are most vulnerable. We are going to work, and this was one of the administra...

One of the new administration's announcements this morning that they will be working to increase production around N95 and higher quality masks, so that we can get those out to citizens. You can buy them, you can buy them online, but there are a lot of... It's hard to determine if they're real N95 or KN95 masks, or there are a lot of fakes out there, and so I know citizens are always concerned about that. We were... Just to be frank, our family, we were able to find some on Amazon, some KN95 masks that had been vetted, And they're... They work very well. And again, protect those... Protect ourselves from someone we may be around who has the virus. So, our hope is that we will be able to increase production on those masks and that we will be able to get them out to more people, especially our most vulnerable, over the coming weeks and months until people are able to get those vaccines. 

I know that's a lot of information, I appreciate your patience. And with that, I'm hoping... I'm happy to open up for questions. Just reminding you, this is my first time, and I'm told you will take it very easy on me.

BEN WINSLOW, FOX-13: Governor, is there any discussion, at this point, about spreading out more first doses, taking just all of your second doses and making them first doses?

GOVERNOR COX: So, we have had those discussions, yes. And those discussions by the way are happening at a national and an international level. It's something I've been supportive of, just using the math, and knowing that there is some immunity, although maybe not at the 95% that comes through first doses. And the problem is we just don't have good data around that because the trials moved so quickly, we didn't...

We just did second doses for everyone. If we had done a test group with just first doses and then a test group of second doses, we could have seen the differences there, but that never happened. And so, the healthcare experts are recommending that we not make that change right now, that we don't delay any second doses, that we keep those second doses with the name on them. Again, just for those three weeks to four weeks, and then after a week, we redistribute those.

This is a much broader question than something that we can just do here in Utah. We really do need the scientific community and some consensus around this. I believe that the UK is the nation that has kind of taken that approach in redistributing second doses as first doses and holding off. But for now, we are going to hold those second doses and then redistribute them as quickly as we can.

SONJA HUSON, KUER:  Where is the money coming from to provide what you've kind of talked about, as unlimited resources to these local health departments, whatever they need to get shots in people's arms? Where is that money coming from, especially as the legislature is, you know, in session and working on the budget still?

GOVERNOR COX: Yeah, sure.

REPORTER: Do we also have a per dose price yet to understand what the impacts to the State are?

GOVERNOR COX: Yeah, so to answer those two questions, we don't have a kind of a first dose price as far as impacts, it's a little different. Now, our local health districts, what they do, they track all of their costs for sure. So, we'll be able to get more insight into that with all of our partners, especially through the billing.

Now, I will say one change that we are also working on making right now that I think is important, one... Something that slows down the delivery of vaccinations is the billing process for insurance, right? Because insurance does cover some of this, but it takes 30% longer to go through the billing process which basically means that's 30% fewer vaccines that we can get out with the resources we have now. Now some local health districts have reserves and they've just decided we're not going to bill insurance just to speed up the process. Others don't have that option.

So, we are working right now with the legislature to see if there is a way that we can cover that so that they don't slow down to go through that billing process, and maybe work through it on the backend. So, you just tell us who your provider is, and then we work with the insurance companies out there to say, hey, look, we're not going to bill you directly, and we'll give you a little bit of a discount, but we're going to work through this. Those are the types of conversations that are happening.

The State will cover it for now, and then you'll pay us back a portion of that on the backend, so we don't slow anything down. So part of it is coming through insurance, but the majority of those costs are coming through the Federal government reimbursements, and so CARES Act money, the new CARES Act that was coming, we can use that for these types of things. Again, some of the changes that Biden administration made today will help cover those costs. And then we've just made it very clear that this is so important that we will use general fund money as needed, and talk to legislative leadership about being reimbursed for that. And everybody agrees that this is our first priority and the most important thing we should do in... That funding should not slow us down in any way. 

SONJA HUSON, KUER: Thanks.

HAYLEY CROMBLEHOLIME, KUTV: Governor, are there any teeth to your executive order, any enforcement or action you can take, when, like in the case of this Federal partnership, they failed to get those first doses out within that seven- day turnaround time?

GOVERNOR COX: Yeah, so with all the other partnerships, there is teeth, right? We have access to those; those are the State's doses. We can go and get those doses; we can redistribute those any way we want to. And that's what's worked so well. And again, our partners want that to happen. They want it out there too, and so hospitals have just said, hey, we have too much, here's thousands of doses, let's get them out and make that happen. On the Federal side, we don't have quite as much teeth because that is a Federal partnership, but they are also very willing partners, and they recognize that we've... I've talked to my fellow governors, this is a problem across the country, this isn't just a Utah problem. Everyone is seeing this problem and working really hard to claw back those doses. I will tell you it's going to happen. We're going to make it happen, willingly or not, it's going to happen. There's no reason for those doses to sit on shelves and potentially expire, which would be the worst-case scenario.

RAEANN CHRISTENSEN, PBS UTAH: Okay, we do have some reporters that are joining us remotely. We would like to go to Dave McCann with KSL TV.

GOVERNOR COX: Great. 

DAVE MCCANN, KSL TV: Governor, good morning. As the governor of a State that did not vote for president Biden, did you see or hear anything from his speech yesterday in regards to coming together as a nation that you'll expound on in your State of the State speech tonight?

GOVERNOR COX:  Yeah, thank you Dave for that. And it's nice to see you, you don't have to wear a tie when you're at home. So, I'm a little jealous right now, I'm going to have to appear remote with you next time. I heard a lot, and I hope all Utahans listened to that speech. Regardless of who you voted for or what your political leanings are, I thought it was an incredible speech. It was an impactful speech. If you're... Again, whatever your political leanings, I think it's a speech that Ronald Reagan would have been proud of. I think there was so much in there about unity. Certainly, that was in the message that I tried to deliver in my own inaugural speech. And so there... That's the type of hopeful message we need. We recognize that there are going to be big differences of opinion and policy between our administration and the incoming administration.

But I also believe there will be lots of policy pieces that we can work on together, and we should be finding that common ground. And so tonight I would encourage everyone to tune in. I know you're all dying to hear my State of the State, you never miss it. It's tonight at 6:30, and you will hear some echoes of some of the things that were shared in his speech. I will also give you a preview of that right now. 

We believe it is going to be the shortest State of the State speech in State history. So that should get everyone excited to tune in tonight and listen. And there's a reason for that. And that reason is for the safety of the people who will be there. What we do know about this coronavirus is, the more time we're in an enclosed space together, the higher the chance of transmission, mask or no mask, that occurs. And so, one of the safety precautions that I'm taking tonight is shortening the speech significantly. So that people, the legislators who are attending in person will have less of an opportunity to be impacted if there is someone who has the virus in the audience tonight. 

RAEANN CHRISTENSEN, PBS UTAH: Okay, Jacob with KSL.COM, go ahead with your question.

JACOB KLOPFENSTEIN, KSL.COM: Good morning, Governor. There's been reports from some other States of hospitals and healthcare facilities actually throwing away doses of the vaccine, in some cases because they just can't comply with strict regulations for how they should use those doses that are put in place by governors or State leadership. So I know you touched on this a little bit earlier but is there any evidence that this is happening in Utah, that doses are being disposed of, and how are you, you know, continuing to work with the facilities that are getting vaccines to make sure they can comply with those strict regulations in the executive order?

GOVERNOR COX: Yeah, it's a great question, and thank you, Jacob. And the answer is no, we have not had any evidence of any vaccine in this State being thrown away or unused, and that's the good news. And what I would say about that executive order, it actually did the opposite of placing more restrictions on our partners. It rolled back those restrictions and made it easier for them to get those doses out there. And that's the message we've been clear. Of course, we want these vaccines in the arms of our most vulnerable, that is first and foremost.

That's one of the reasons we opened up to 70 plus, which is a very large population. Basically, on day one, I had to choose between two problems. One problem being, either we have those doses sitting on shelves and going to waste, like we've seen in other States, or we have a crush of people trying to register for those vaccines and being frustrated as we work through those processes. 

The decision was an easy one for me. I would much rather have, you know, difficulty logging into a website or getting on the phone because we have too many people registering to get that vaccine. Obviously, we don't want that either, and we're working through those problems and finding solutions, but that's why we made the change. Every one of our partners knows there is no reason to waste a vaccine. Figure out a way to... And look, even if you're... I would rather have it in the arm of a healthy 25 year- old than being thrown away. That's not ideal, but we want people to prioritize the most vulnerable, and get those shots out as quickly as they can.

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

BETHANY RODGERS, SALT LAKE TRIBUNE: Hi, Governor. I wanted to follow up on the announcement yesterday about the fact that the Biden administration is going to be exploring the restoration of the national monuments in Utah. And we saw the statement that you signed on too last night, but I was just wondering what your next steps are going to be in engaging with the Federal government on that issue?

GOVERNOR COX: Yeah, so kind of a good news, bad news. We knew obviously that this would be a priority for the incoming administration. In fact, Governor Herbert and I sent a letter to then president elect Biden back in December, asking them for an opportunity to sit down and find some consensus on these issues. So, we don't have this political football, or ping pong, or whatever sports metaphor you want to use.

I am grateful that the announcement wasn't just a complete roll back, but that the announcement was a process, a review process. That's a good first start. And so we've had constant communication with our congressional delegation as well as legislative leadership. And by the way, on the democratic side as well, I had a great call last night with leadership in the minority party in our State, talking about, can we work together? Can we come together? And that's been our message. We are hearing some hopeful feedback from the administration that they are willing to sit down and have these conversations and have everyone involved in figuring out what that solution is.

So that really is the next step, is sitting down, our team and the Biden administration's team to see if there is some common ground that we can work on with our local officials, with our tribal officials, and with State and legislative officials. 

RAEANN CHRISTENSEN, PBS UTAH: All right, Chris Reed with St. George News, go ahead with your question.

GOVERNOR COX: We're having a hard time hearing you, Chris. The zoom mutes.

RAEANN CHRISTENSEN, PBS UTAH: All right, we lost Chris.

GOVERNOR COX: Strikes again.

RAEANN CHRISTENSEN, PBS UTAH: We lost Chris, We'll go...

BEN WINSLOW, FOX-13: Well, on that note with the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monument, what about tribal concerns? They have obviously pushed for this to be not only restored to its original boundary, perhaps expanded. You've said you want to elevate indigenous voices, isn't this going counter to what they want?

GOVERNOR COX: Lifting indigenous voices means coming to the table and having those conversations. I had a wonderful phone call just last week with our tribal leaders in the Navajo reservation from that corner of our State. We have an incredible relationship with them. And we talked about this very issue, and they are also anxious to come together. They don't like it every four years, the back and forth that we are seeing right now. And so, that's what it really is about. Can we give on some issues? Can they give on some issues? Can we come to a peaceful resolution of this, so we're not fighting this battle every year for 20 years, 25 years, really 70 years from the original Sagebrush rebellion.

REPORTER:  So, if you are able to set up a meeting with the Biden administration, do... Is it in your plan to have tribal leaders at that meeting?

GOVERNOR COX: Absolutely. 

REPORTER: Okay.

GOVERNOR COX: Yes, yes, we want everyone's voices represented at those meetings. All right, and I think that's our time. Again, thank you so much for your diligence. Thank you for joining us today. Thank you for going easy on me, I know it'll get tougher at the next one, but we look forward to seeing you again next month. Thanks everyone. 

RAEANN CHRISTENSEN, PBS UTAH: Thank you so much Governor.

ANNOUNCER: This has been, "The Governor's Monthly News Conference," an archive of transcripts, video, and audio is available online. Please visit pbsutah.org/governor.

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