COVID-19 test (orion rogers)

SEUHD Environmental Health Director Orion Rogers gets tested for COVID-19. [Moab Sun News file photo]

The Southeast Utah Health Department opened up COVID-19 vaccine appointments for adults 18 years of age or older, as state guidelines have loosened. Brady Bradford, health director at SEUHD, hopes that everyone in Grand County will have the opportunity to receive at least the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine by the start of May.

“That may be a little optimistic,” he said, “but I think it'll be pretty close to that date, which is exciting.”

Last week, Utah Governor Spencer Cox announced that all Utah adults will be eligible for COVID-19 vaccines by April 1, ten days before a statewide mask mandate will end. The policy change came after heated negotiations with state legislators who had planned to end the state’s mask mandate even sooner. The governor’s office anticipates having 1.5 million doses in the state by April 10, when the mask mandate will end.

Though the prospect of COVID-19 vaccinations becoming more readily available will excite many residents of Grand County, the onus is on the Southeastern Utah Health Department, Moab Regional Hospital and other local partners to organize and administer the shots to an eager public. The health department is using the Moderna vaccination; teenagers ages 16 and 17 will receive the Pfizer vaccine at SEUHD. Those who have already contracted the virus should wait 90 days before receiving their vaccine.

Bradford is optimistic about increasing vaccine distribution in the health department’s jurisdiction, which includes Grand, Emery and Carbon counties.

“I'll be honest, it's gone very smoothly. Our vaccine appointments that we have had in Grand County have been 100% filled — there's a lot of desire to get vaccinated here,” he said in an interview with the Moab Sun News.

Bradford reported that vaccine distribution thus far throughout the health department’s tri-county area has gone smoothly. Patients are usually in and out within 20 minutes, after professionals check for allergic reactions. SEUHD has also recently implemented a new electronic registration system for cataloguing appointments, making things easier for nurses.

What they’re worried about most regarding the upcoming influx of vaccinations and appointments, Bradford says, is space.

“Our biggest concern for our counties’ offices is that the offices themselves are not big enough to handle what we need,” he said, “but we're working on some different plans to address that in April.”

Bradford mentioned the possibility of giving out vaccinations at the Grand Center and setting up outdoor tents throughout town. The health department will finalize these new locations before they open up slots for the wave of April appointments next week.

Though there will be more vaccines to distribute, Bradford said, the health department will follow the same procedures and practice they’ve used over the last few months. Each county will receive a specific allotment of doses each week, and their respective health department offices will manage the distributions.

“We don’t necessarily need to do anything different,” Bradford said.

Bradford doesn’t anticipate needing to recruit extra volunteers for vaccine administration over the next few weeks; volunteers will most likely only be necessary if each county’s allotted dosage exceeds 250 vaccinations per day.

“Anything below that our staff can handle fairly easily. Certainly we love and appreciate volunteers, but sometimes it's nice to pull employees from what they normally would do and reassign them to a vaccine clinic for a few days,” he said.

SEUHD has gotten help from local emergency services in recent months, who have helped administer vaccines at the health department’s clinics.

“It's a good community-wide effort. We are confident that no matter how much we're allotted through April, we'll be able to get them all out,” Bradford continued.

Bradford added that the health department will benefit if everyone can remain patient and understanding throughout the distribution process.

According to officials, the local health department will only receive Moderna vaccines to administer to residents.

If those wanting to get vaccinated cannot find an open appointment at the health department, Bradford encourages them to try City Market or Moab Regional Hospital to secure potential doses.

While anticipating administering vaccines to all Grand County residents who want them by May, Bradford is also looking further ahead: to June, the fall and even years into the future.

“If we get a good number of Grand County residents vaccinated, that provides great protection,” he said. “There's still going to be a lot of tourism coming through town, and we obviously won't know their status. So we’ll still work with local businesses to find the practices that have worked well for them in terms of cleaning and sanitation.”

The safety precautions that local businesses have adopted over the last year have managed to keep flu spread to an all-time low, Bradford said, and could remain mainstays in Moab for years to come.

“At some point, the mask mandate will go away. But what are elements of this that work well that we can continue so that not only COVID stays down, but other these other diseases in the future?” he asked. Epidemiologists across the globe are wondering the same.

“My guess is that we will be getting COVID vaccines on a regular basis throughout our lives as variants emerge, just like the flu,” Bradford continued. “But I expect that this first round will provide some good protection for quite a while.”

Grand, Emery and Carbon county residents can schedule a COVID-19 vaccination appointment with SEUHD by clicking here.

Those who show any symptoms of COVID-19 are encouraged to get tested at Moab Regional Hospital. To talk to a nurse about symptoms and schedule a test, call the Moab Regional Hospital COVID-19 hotline at 435-719-3998.