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AM News Brief: Pass/Fail Classes, COVID-19 Cases Among Utah Politicians & More Aftershocks

Photo of a bus stop on the University of Utah campus.
Brian Albers
A change to the grading system for University of Utah students takes effect Monday. This and more in the Monday morning news brief.

Monday morning, March 23, 2020


Census Delays

The U.S. Census Bureau announced on Friday in a news briefing that it is delaying its deadline for collecting responses because of the COVID-19 outbreak. While the bureau is urging people to take it on-line as soon as possible, field operations — which include in-person follow-ups — have been pushed back nearly two weeks: from May 13 to May 28. Some 20% of Utahns have responded to the Census, which is just above the national average. Cache County has the highest response rate in the state and Piute, Garfield and Rich counties have the lowest. Read the full story. — Kate Groetzinger, Bluff & Jessica Lowell

Northern Utah

Utah’s First COVID-19 Death

Utah has reported its first death related to the novel coronavirus. Health officials say the Davis County man was over 60 years old, had underlying conditions and had been hospitalized for two days before he died. He had been exposed to COVID-19 through travel, not community spread. Utah has 181 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 84 in Salt Lake County, 50 in Summit and 19 in Davis County. Read the full story. — Sonja Hutson

Utah Politicians Test Positive For COVID-19

State Senator Luz Escamilla has tested positive for COVID-19. She said she and her family are in quarantine, and the diagnosis is “scary” given that she has asthma. But, she said she expects to fully recover.

Salt Lake City Councilman Darin Mano also tested positive, and said he may have contracted the virus during a trip to Washington D.C.

Utah Congressman Ben McAdams, who tested positive for the virus last week, was admitted to the hospital over the weekend. He says he received oxygen, but has since been taken off of it and expects to be released soon.

U.S. Senator Mitt Romney is being tested for coronavirus and self-quarantining. The decision comes after Sen. Rand Paul, R-KY, who Romney sat next to frequently, tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday. Utah Sen. Mike Lee has also self-quarantined after having had contact with Sen. Paul. — Sonja Hutson

Food Bank Distribution Challenges

The coronavirus outbreak is still relatively under control in Utah compared to other states, but it’s expected to get worse. With that comes a lot of uncertainty, especially for the economy. The Utah Food Bank said that’s led to an increase in the demand for food donations across the board — from seniors to families and people who are out of work. But the biggest challenge isn’t so much the supply of food, it’s figuring out how to distribute it to everyone in need. Read the full story. — Jon Reed

Another Emergency Declaration For Salt Lake City

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall issued a fourth emergency declaration over the weekend aimed at protecting the health and safety of city employees and to help ease the burden of residents who may be quarantined. City employees who use a city vehicle for work will be able to take that vehicle home instead of picking it up from the workplace to drive to a site. And managers will work to avoid employees convening when shifts change, including allowing workers to clock in and out remotely. For residents who may be self-quarantined, and whose vehicles are parked for extended periods of time on city streets, parking enforcement will be minimized, but metered parking downtown remains unchanged. — Diane Maggipinto

University Of Utah Pass/Fail

A change to the grading system for University of Utah students takes effect Monday. Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Dan Reed said students can choose a traditional letter grade or pass/fail option for each class. They have until April 10 to make the decision. Students may also withdraw from classes before that date without penalty, but will not receive tuition refunds. The move follows a petition with more than 7700 signatures asking the U to institute a pass-fail policy. — Diane Maggipinto

Golf Courses Close

Public golf courses in Davis County and Salt Lake City are closed effective Monday. Officials said they're working on developing safety measures for staff and players because of concerns about crowds and contamination from rakes, flags and carts. Salt Lake City Golf Director Matt Kammeyer says unprecedented crowds have hit the links, making it impossible to ensure safety for staff and the public. No reopening date has been set. — Diane Maggipinto

Follow KUER’s coverage of the coronavirus in Utah.

Aftershocks Continue

There have been more than 200 aftershocks along the Wasatch Front since a magnitude 5.7 earthquake hit last Wednesday near Magna. That’s according to the University of Utah Seismographs station. On Sunday, some Utahns in the Salt Lake Valley felt a 4.0 magnitude quake. And on Saturday a 3.4 aftershock rocked the valley. The Utah Division of Emergency Management warned that aftershocks may be felt for the next few days and weeks, but the chances of one larger than the Magna quake has been downgraded to less than 1%. — Ross Terrell

Rio Grande Depot Closing

The Rio Grande Depot will be closed for “at least a couple of months” after the building suffered structural damage during a magnitude 5.7 earthquake last week. The building, constructed in 1910, sustained damage to the roof, while walls inside lost large chunks of plaster. Utah Department of Heritage and Arts officials said there is also concern about asbestos and lead paint on the debris that fell. Employees who work there will be moved to temporary offices in other state buildings for the time being. — Ross Terrell

Southern Utah

Canyonlands Closure

Campgrounds at Canyonlands National Park’s Island in the Sky and The Needles are now closed. Beginning Thursday no overnight stays will be allowed in the park's backcountry until further notice. That means trips of more than one day on the White Rim are banned. No new overnight or day-use backcountry permits are being issued. Private and commercial river trips are suspended. — Diane Maggipinto

Bryce Canyon Wall Collapse

A retaining wall collapsed on the Navajo Loop at Bryce Canyon National Park and most of the trail is now closed. The well-used trail loops from the rim at Sunset Point to the floor of Bryce Canyon and passes famous hoodoo formations. Visitors may hike down from the Point about a tenth of a mile along the "Two Bridges" side to view Thor's Hammer before the turnaround. At Bryce, rangers are collecting fees, though the visitor center is closed. The North Campground remains open for first-come-first-served. And park concessions are operating at the General Store and Sunset Lodge, according to the Park Service website. — Diane Maggipinto


‘Recipe For Disaster’ In Indian Country

The National Congress of American Indians warned Friday that COVID-19 is a “recipe for a disaster” in Indian Country. Indigenous people have a higher rate of underlying medical conditions. Many also live in remote areas and rely on substandard health care provided by the federal government. All of this could have a devastating effect on Indian Country as the novel coronavirus continues to expand. Read the full story. — Nate Hegyi, Mountain West News Bureau

Dinosaur National Monument Death

Park rangers at Dinosaur National Monument were called to search for two missing Colorado snowmobilers last Thursday, believed to be riding in the Wild Mountain area along the border of Utah and Colorado. Helicopter pilots spotted the men on Saturday inside a remote area of the monument. One man, a 65-year-old, was alive, the other 58-year-old man had died. Moffat County Colorado agencies responded along with Uintah County first responders and the Utah Departments of Natural Resources and Department of Public Safety. Moffat County and Uintah County sheriffs and the National Park Service are investigating. — Diane Maggipinto

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