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PM News Brief: Robert Murray Black Lung, 1,000 COVID-19 Cases & Ballet West Inclusivity

A photo of ballerina shoes.
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Ballet West announced policy changes Thursday to become more welcoming to non-white dancers. This story and more in Thursday evening's news brief.

Thursday evening, October 1, 2020

State

Utah Reports More Than 1,000 COVID-19 Cases For First Time This Week

For the first time since Sunday, Utah health officials reported more than 1,000 new COVID-19 cases. Dr. Clark Bishop, who works at the Utah Valley Hospital in Provo, said he’s disappointed his home, Utah County, has been leading this recent spike in cases. And he implored people to continue to take this virus seriously. “I wish you could see what it’s like to see somebody who’s got COVID-19 and not sure if they’re going to survive,” Bishop said. “They’re in the ICU all alone, writing goodbye notes to their children.” Since the start of the pandemic, Utah County has had nearly 20,000 COVID-19 cases, trailing only Salt Lake County. Provo and Orem are the only two areas in the state right now to be in the orange, moderate level of restrictions. — Ross Terrell

More Than 11,000 End Unemployment Claims Last Week

Utah’s economy continues to show signs of revival, as more than 11,000 people ended their unemployment claims last week. That’s the second highest in a single week since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Still, the state’s Department of Workforce Services said Thursday, about 48,000 people received benefits last week. Both the number of new claims and Utah’s overall unemployment rate are meeting goals set by the state to keep weekly claims below 50,000 and the rate below 4.5%. — Jon Reed

New Grant Launched To Help Small Businesses Pay Sick Employees

The Utah Labor Commission launched a new grant program Thursday, with the hopes of making it easier for small businesses to pay employees who have to quarantine or isolate due to COVID-19. The $2 million program uses federal CARES Act money. It’s meant for companies with less than 50 employees and at least one has been told to stay home because of COVID-19. Businesses who continue to pay their workers can be reimbursed. The Labor Commission said in an email one of the easiest ways to protect a business and slow the spread of the disease is to ask sick workers to stay home. The grant will cover wages up to 40 hours a week for a maximum of two weeks. — Ross Terrell

Northern Utah

Salt Lake City Air Quality Showing Improvement, Albeit Slow

From 2015 to 2019, Salt Lake City saw about 20 more good air quality days compared to 2005 through 2009. That’s according to a new study by the company Filterbuy, which sells air filters. The study looked at Environmental Protection Agency data and found Salt Lake City ranked near the bottom for air quality improvement among large metro areas. For comparison, St. Louis, Missouri, which ranked number one among large metros, saw an increase of more than 110 good air quality days over that same period. — Bob Nelson

Ballet West To Become More Inclusive For Dancers Of Color

Ballet West announced policy changes Thursday to become more welcoming to non-white dancers. The company will eliminate “paling” body make-up, tights will more accurately match a dancer’s skin tone and shoes will either be dyed or painted to do the same. Ballet West’s artistic director said in a statement they need to examine how their art form can “do better in dismantling systems that do not foster equity.” The changes come following a three month audit of the company’s policies and procedures. — Ross Terrell

Southern Utah

Robert Murray Files For Black Lung Benefits

Former coal CEO Robert Murray has filed an application with the U.S. Department of Labor for black lung benefits. He was head of Murray Energy Holdings, which co-owned and operated Crandall Canyon Mine in Emery County, when collapses there in 2007 resulted in the deaths of six miners and three rescue workers. Ohio Valley ReSource reports Murray said on the form that he is still board chairman of the company but can no longer serve as president and CEO due to his health. Murray, who’s now 80-years-old, has fought federal regulations on the industry for years. His company filed suit in 2014 over federal regulations to cut coal dust, a move meant to reduce the number of black lung cases. — Associated Press and Elaine Clark

Region

Emergency Wildfire And Public Safety Act

A bipartisan group of western lawmakers have signed onto a new federal bill that aims to reduce the damages of wildfire. It’s called the Emergency Wildfire and Public Safety Act of 2020. The legislation would fund three massive land management projects that will hopefully reduce fire risk and damage. It could include things like logging, prescribed burns and rehabilitating damaged ecosystems. The bill would also help fund other initiatives, like shoring up the energy grid in fire-prone places, funding education grants for forest and fire-related jobs and creating a center to train people in using prescribed burns. — Madelyn Beck, Mountain West News Bureau

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