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AM News Brief: Southern Utah COVID Warning, Increased Airline Travel & A Giant, Jurassic Bug

Photo of prehistoric winged bug and fossil.
Courtesy Utah Field House of Natural History State Park Museum
A team of scientists have discovered the fossilized remains of a 151 million-year-old predatory insect in Southeastern Utah’s San Juan County. This story and more in the Thursday morning news brief.";

Thursday morning, May 21, 2020

Northern Utah

Draper Tests For Antibodies

Five hundred Draper residents were tested Wednesday for COVID-19 antibodies. The city's mayor said the results of the test could help elected officials make more informed policy decisions. Draper will offer another round of antibody testing next week and those slots are already full. Bluffdale, Riverton and Vineyard are offering the same option to their residents within the next week. People must sign up beforehand, and individuals are responsible for the $70 cost. — Jessica Lowell

Follow KUER’s coverage of the coronavirus in Utah.

Mediation In McCluskey Lawsuit Fails

The University of Utah and Jill and Matt McCluskey did not reach any agreement during mediation this week. The McCluskeys are the parents of slain student Lauren McCluskey. Their attorneys said the pair sought mediation “to improve safety and prevent a similar tragedy at the U and other campuses in the United States.” Spokespeople for the University of Utah said they had hoped that over two days of mediation they would reach an agreement “that would honor Lauren’s memory and benefit U students through best practices in campus safety.” Both sides said they still hope to reach a mutually agreeable outcome. Lauren McCluskey was murdered outside her dorm on the U campus nearly 2 years ago by a man she briefly dated. She had filed complaints against him with campus police. — Diane Maggipinto

Former Utah Congressman Dies

Howard Nielson, a four-term Congress member representing Utah, has died. He served in the House of Representatives from 1983 to 1991 and before that was a Utah legislator and Speaker of the House. After a mission with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Australia, Nielson went on to win a seat in the Utah Senate. E&E News notes that the Republican was key in negotiating the 1990 Clean Air Act during his final term in Congress. Nielson was 95. — Diane Maggipinto

Southern Utah

COVID Warnings For Southwest Utah

Utah epidemiologist Angela Dunn warned that there is potential for a surge of COVID-19 cases in Southern Utah. Her comments at a press briefing on Wednesday came in response to a question about climbing case numbers in Southwest Utah, and she made it clear that the increase in testing isn’t the only reason why the area is seeing a higher number of positive cases. The Southwest Utah Public Health Department is not sure what’s behind the potential surge. The agency is encouraging all Southwest Utah residents to follow the state’s low-risk recommendations, like frequent hand washing and social distancing or wearing a mask where distancing may be difficult. — David Fuchs, St. George

More Cases In Southeast Utah

San Juan County is also seeing a rise in coronavirus cases. The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 on the Navajo Nation in Utah reached 238 Wednesday, an increase of more than a hundred over the past two weeks. The infection rate there is around 3,800 cases per 100,000 residents, which is more than 15 times the rate in Utah overall. Navajo Nation and local public health officials say the increase is partially due to aggressive testing in the area. Around 1,200 people were tested at an event in Blanding last week, and the majority of them were Native American. — Kate Groetzinger, Bluff

White Mesa Mill

When the White Mesa Mill was built in 1980, it was permitted to process domestic uranium ore for 15 years. There were no plans for it to be an international radioactive waste disposal site, but that’s what environmental activists and representatives of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe argue the White Mesa Mill has become. And now the mill’s owner is requesting a permit to import radioactive waste from as far away as Eastern Europe. Read the full story. — Kate Groetzinger

Giant, Biting, Jurassic Insect Fossil Found

A team of scientists have discovered the fossilized remains of a 151 million-year-old predatory insect in Southeastern Utah’s San Juan County. Morrisonepa jurassica is a relative of today’s “giant water bug,” which hunts underwater in ponds and streams and is known for its extremely painful bites. This insect fossil is the first of its kind to be found from the Jurassic period in North America, and it includes the abdomen, part of the forewing and possibly the head. It’s now part of the collection at the Utah Field House of Natural History State Park Museum in Vernal. — Elaine Clark

Region/Nation

Navajo Nation Casinos Remain Closed

The Navajo Nation's casinos in New Mexico and Arizona will stay closed until at least next month because of the coronavirus pandemic. That decision coincides with the tribe's partial government closure and stay-at-home order that expires June 7. The tribe has one casino in Arizona east of Flagstaff and three in New Mexico near Farmington, Shiprock and Gallup. They have been closed since mid-March, though casino officials said employees are still receiving paychecks and have access to mental health and other services. — Associated Press

Airline Travel Is Increasing

The number of U.S. airline passengers is creeping up as states begin to relax their stay-at-home orders. That’s according to data from the Transportation Security Administration. Last Saturday, more than 250,000 people passed through airport security checkpoints across the country. That’s almost three times as many airline passengers as there were during the deepest travel lull in mid-April. But it’s still just a tiny fraction of what’s normal. — Nate Hegyi, Mountain West News Bureau

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