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The Utah National Guard Has Had Eight Confirmed Cases Of COVID-19 So Far. More Could Come Soon.

Soldiers load a cargo plane. An aircraft hanger marked with the words “Utah Air National Guard” is in the background.
Courtesy of Utah National Guard
Eight members of the Utah National Guard have tested positive for COVID-19 so far.

ST. GEORGE — The first positive case of COVID-19 within the Utah National Guard was confirmed nearly a month ago: a soldier who was deployed outside of the state.

Since then, seven more Utah guardsmen have tested positive for the disease. Two of those soldiers have been out of state and five more have been here in Utah — each one in a different location.

To date, 141 members of the Utah National Guard have been exposed to coronavirus.
But those numbers haven’t been public until now. 

That’s because of Department of Defense guidelines that limit the amount of information the Utah National Guard and other military services can publicize about COVID-19 counts.

The new guidance, which was released on March 30, is intended to streamline how military agencies report coronavirus data to the public, said Lt. Col. DJ Gibb, spokesman for the Utah National Guard.

It got to a certain point where there were so many cases of COVID-19 being reported to the Department of Defense and through other agencies that they didn’t want it to overwhelm our capacity to communicate,” he said. 

More cases could be coming soon. 

Right now, we’ve got 10 pending test results. And over the next 48 hours, we have about 76 folks that are going to be tested based on primary or secondary exposures that may have occurred,” Gibb said. 

The potential cases come as the Utah National Guard has ramped up its efforts to assist health departments across the state with COVID-19 response.

The guard announced on Tuesday that it was dispatching 81 soldiers and airmen to help with tasks ranging from translation to contact tracing to international relief.

Gibb added that the Utah National Guard is following all guidelines set forth by the Utah Department of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Defense Department when it comes to preventing the spread of the coronavirus and responding to confirmed cases of the disease within its ranks.

Those steps include shifting personnel to telework where possible and mandating social distancing and mask-wearing for the skeleton crews who have to work together in-person. 

Additionally, any guardsman who presents with COVID-19 symptoms or meets the state’s guidelines to undergo testing is sent home to self-isolate. 

“The health and safety of our Utah National Guardsmen is the most important part of this whole COVID-19 thing. That’s our priority,” Gibb said. “So, everything that we do or train to do during this crisis, we have that mind.”

David Fuchs is a Report for America corps member who reports from KUER's Southwest Bureau in St. George. Follow David on Twitter @davidmfuchs.

David is a reporter and producer working on Sent Away, an investigative podcast series from KUER, The Salt Lake Tribune and APM Reports.
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