State Leaders Form Coronavirus Task Force
Standing in Utah’s Emergency Operations Center Monday afternoon, state Epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn made it abundantly clear: Coronavirus will likely spread throughout the state.
“That is happening in other states surrounding us and that's what we are preparing for,” Dunn said.
With that in mind, state leaders have assembled the Utah coronavirus task force, led by Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, with representatives from the education, business, healthcare and religious communities.
There are no known cases of the virus in Utah right now, but as they begin to appear in the state, Dunn said residents should be prepared for disruptions to their daily lives.
“Potentially school closures, not going to church on the weekends — those sorts of mass gathering limitations could become an essential part of our public health response,” she said.
State leaders are emphasizing that people should not panic, but should prepare by taking preventative measures, like washing their hands regularly, staying home if they feel sick, and even creating a plan with their families and businesses in case they have to be quarantined.
“We are hoping for the very best outcome which is minimal impact on our communities,” Gov. Gary Herbert said. “But we're preparing for the worst, just in case.”
Herbert added that Utahns don’t need to overreact by stocking up on water when coronavirus isn’t expected to impact the water supply.
Cox also warned residents to seek out only reliable information about the virus.
“We will be your trusted source,” he said. “We know there's lots of information out there. Please, we encourage you to use trusted sources. Don't believe everything you read on Facebook or Twitter.”
The task force will post new information at coronavirus.utah.gov, as well as on its social media channels.
The state has tested 17 people for COVID-19 so far, according to Dunn. Fifteen of them have tested negative, and the other two are still awaiting the results.
As of Monday, the Utah Department of Health will perform its own coronavirus testing, instead of sending samples to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That will cut down the turnaround time for results from three days to less than 24 hours, Dunn said. But, right now, they only have the ability to test around 400 people.
The Department of Health’s top priority, Dunn added, is reaching out to vulnerable communities like the homeless, elderly and immigrant populations.
She said they are coordinating with organizations that serve those populations to identify and address all their needs.
The state has enough money in the coffers to address a coronavirus outbreak, according to legislative leaders.
“We've got ongoing money put aside that we don't have to spend, that we're applying to one-time expenses, that we can use for either a downturn in the economy, or a pandemic, or something else,” Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said.
Sonja Hutson covers politics for KUER. Follow her on Twitter @SonjaHutson