COVID-19 vaccine eligibility expands to include 65 and over; most restrictions lifted in Garfield County

ST. GEORGE — The governor declared Thursday that all Utahns 65 to 69 years of age are now eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, moving up the timetable by two weeks. In addition, nearly all COVID-19 restrictions except the mask mandate were lifted in Garfield County, which was declared a low transmission area by the state.

Gov. Spencer Cox speaks during a Feb. 18, 2021 taping of the PBS Utah “Governor’s Monthly News Conference” program. Salt Lake City, Utah | Photo courtesy of PBS Utah

Gov. Spencer Cox made the announcements Thursday during the taping of the PBS Utah’s Governor’s Monthly News Conference program. Previously, Cox said that those 65 and over would become eligible on March 1, along with those with certain high-risk health conditions. However, while the high-risk conditions will remain ineligible until March 1, Cox declared that progress in getting those 70 and over immunized has prompted him to move up the timetable for those 65 and over to Thursday. 

While 62% of those 70 and over in the state have received their first of two vaccine injections, Cox acknowledged there are still some areas where reservation slots for the vaccine have been harder to come by – something Southern Utah residents can attest to.

“Some counties have more doses than others to go for those 70 and over so we encourage patience,” Cox said. “We can’t emphasize patience enough.”

David Heaton, spokesperson for the Southwest Utah Public Health Department, acknowledged that at least in Washington County, there is still a ways to go to accommodate those 70 and over let alone 65 and above.

“In Washington, it feels a little too soon with so many 70-plus still trying to get in, but we will open up available slots to the next group as instructed,” said Heaton, who added it will be easier to accommodate those 65 and over in Southern Utah’s four other counties. 

In this file photo, a resident receives the COVID-19 vaccine inside the St. George Active Life Center for the Southwest Utah Public Health Department’s COVID-19 vaccination clinic on Feb. 11, 2021. St. George, Utah | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

While all of the reservation slots remaining in February are filled at this point (with the exception of Garfield County) at the time of this writing, there remained vaccine reservation slots open at this link in all counties for a date in March. However, the Southwest Utah Public Health Department SignUpGenius site has not been updated to include 65 and over. Users can mark 70-and-over in its place.

On Wednesday, the freezing storm affecting much of the country delayed a vaccine shipment, canceling a Washington County vaccination clinic that had been scheduled for Thursday. Those set to get their first shots of the vaccine have been rescheduled for other days. 

The governor estimated that 130,000 Utahns between the ages of 65 and 69 have been added to those eligible for the vaccine, and another 250,000 people will be added when some high-risk groups, such as those with high degrees of obesity and others with lung and heart disease become eligible on March 1.

After those groups will follow additional age groups – starting with those 60-64, then 49-55 – as well as additional high-risk groups, like those with asthma. 

Cox said he remains “very confident” that by May, anyone in Utah who wants to get a vaccine will get one. Cox said his confidence was bolstered after a meeting with White House officials earlier in the week, when he was assured vaccine supplies will continue to increase from the federal government. 

Most COVID-19 restrictions being lifted in Garfield County

As of Thursday, there are no longer COVID-19 restrictions on restaurants, bars or gyms in Garfield County. The only state restrictions that remain will be the mandate to wear face coverings or masks in all public indoor and outdoor settings when physical distancing of six feet is not possible. 

Map shows the current level of each county in Utah according to the COVID-19 Transmission Index provided by the Utah Department of Health as of Feb. 18, 2021. | Photo courtesy Utah Department of Health, St. George News | Click to enlarge

The move comes a week after the Utah Department of Health issued new guidelines to allow areas with low transmission levels to return to side-by-side seating

At this point, in places like Panguitch, a restaurant doesn’t need to separate seating and a place like a theater or a high school basketball game has no restrictions on how many people can attend or where people sit, though all attendees are still required to wear masks. 

Despite restrictions being lifted in places like Garfield County, as well as 12 other counties in the state, and continuing signs of declining new infections locally and statewide, Cox said it “is not a good time to let up.”

And Cox said in response to a question by St. George News that with the mask mandate continuing, that is not a contradiction. 

“When we say don’t let up, that’s what we’re talking about. Still wear masks. Still be careful about what you’re doing and where you go,” Cox said, adding that Utahns have shown with declining infection rates that they have been educated enough about mask wearing and physical distancing to make the right decisions. “If you’re at a high risk, you should still avoid these situations but people can make these decisions. Where the risks are low, activity can pick up and masks help mitigate any additional risk.” 

A county could still see restrictions return on businesses should the transmission rate go back up. 

For a county to fall below the high-transmission rate and see most restrictions lifted, test positivity has to be below 10% and less than 325 people can be infected with COVID-19 per 100,000 in population. Presently, Garfield County is at a 1.36% positivity rate and 216.5 infected per 100,000. That compares to a 9.21% positivity rate and 414.1 per 100,000 infected in Washington County.

Cox said places like Garfield County, which has seen one new COVID-19 infection in the last eight days, need to be rewarded for getting the pandemic under control. 

Graphic showing the restrictions under the revised Utah COVID-19 Transmission Index as of Feb. 18, 2021. | Background photo by Pixabay, graphic by Chris Reed, St. George News | Click to enlarge

“We should be celebrating,” Cox said. “This means they’re keeping their case numbers low.

Garfield is the only one of the five Southern Utah counties to see its restrictions lifted and by the looks of it may be alone for a while. 

Transmission rates released Thursday showed that Washington and Iron counties, while seeing test positivity in the moderate range, still far exceeded the number of people per 100,000 population presently infected with the virus. 

The case was even worse for Beaver and Kane counties, which each exceeded both measures in the index. In fact, Kane County – home to Kanab and Hildale – presently has the highest per capita infection rate in the state, with 778.3 people infected for every 100,000 people in population.

In an upcoming story: Getting notifications on your phone about those nearby having COVID-19? A new state notification service has been launched with the cooperation of Google and Apple.

Getting the COVID-19 vaccine

  • Those who can currently get first dose of the vaccine: Everyone ages 65 and over; K-12 teachers and staff; those that work in nonhospital health care facilities (those in clinics, pharmacies, dentists or other medical offices); and first responders, including law enforcement, firefighters and EMTs.
  • Those who can receive the second dose: Those who received their first injection 28 days or more before the appointment time.
  • Those who can get first dose of the vaccine as of March 1: Those with the following health conditions – Transplant recipients, having had certain cancers, immunocompromised state including HIV, severe kidney disease, uncontrolled diabetes, obese with a body mass index greater than 40, hepatitis, chronic heart disease, but not high blood pressure, lung disease besides asthma, downs syndrome or cerebral palsy, those who have had strokes or dementia, sickle-cell anemia.
  • Must register in advance online for an appointment time.
  • Must have a personal ID, employment ID (if necessary) and wear a short-sleeve shirt at appointment.
  • Proof of residency is required. Part-time residents can get vaccinated with proof of residency.
  • Vaccines are free of charge.
  • Those without email addresses or unable to make reservations online can get help at a specialized hotline at 435-986-2549.

Washington County:

Where: St. George Active Life Center, 245 N. 200 West, St George

Reservations: Click to register 

Iron County:

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

Reservations: Click to register 

Kane County:

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

Reservations: Click to register 

Garfield County:

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

Reservations: Click to register

Beaver County:

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

Reservations: Click to register

Smith’s Food and Drug:

Where: 20 N. Bluff St. and 565 S. Mall Drive in St. George and 633 S. Main St. in Cedar City.

Reservations: Click to register


Where: 625 W. Telegraph St. in Washington City and 1330 S. Providence Center Dr. in Cedar City.

Reservations: 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 Feb. 18, 2020, seven-day average in parentheses)

Positive COVID-19 tests: 26,129 (59.7 new infections per day in seven days, falling since Feb. 12)

  • Note: County numbers as of Feb. 17
  • Washington County: 19,700 (37.6 per day, falling)
  • Iron County: 4,838 (12.6 per day, falling)
  • Kane County: 478 (6.7 per day, rising)
  • Garfield County: 405 (0.1 per day, falling)
  • Beaver County: 625 (2.3 per day, falling)

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

  • St. George: 25 (falling)
  • Washington City: 12 (rising)
  • Hurricane/LaVerkin: 7 (steady)
  • Ivins City/Santa Clara: 6 (steady)
  • Cedar City: 18 (rising)

Deaths: 217 (0.7 per day, rising)

  • Washington County: 173 (3 new since last report: Long-term care male over 85, long-term care female over 85, hospitalized female 45-64)
  • Iron County: 28 (1 new: Hospitalized male 65-84.)
  • Garfield County: 9 
  • Kane County: 3
  • Beaver County: 4

Hospitalized: 26 (steady)

Active cases: 1,591 (falling)

Current Utah seven-day average: 830 (falling)

Vaccines shipped to  Southern Utah: 41,250

Number of initial vaccine injections in Southern Utah: 29,034 

Number of fully vaccinated in Southern Utah: 13,018

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

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