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AM News Brief: COVID update, Utahns’ confidence in the economy & Olympians so-so on artificial snow

Snowmaking gun in Saulire, France, Dec. 13, 2005.
Ruth Hartnup
Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Friday, Feb. 11, 2022


COVID cases are plummeting — but so is testing

According to the Utah Department of Health, the number of reported COVID cases is plunging in Utah. It’s dropped from 6,166 new cases two weeks ago to 1,935 on Thursday — with around 319 in school-aged children. The number of people getting tested has also almost halved from nearly 11,900 to 6,274 in that same period — and health officials recently pulled one type of rapid antigen test because it gave many residents false-negative results. Testing has plunged since about a month ago when the state epidemiologist urged residents not to get tested if they feel sick and to instead assume they have COVID. — Leah Treidler

Study: Fewer crashes after Utah set strictest DUI law in the nation

Car crashes and traffic deaths decreased in Utah after the state enacted the strictest drunken driving laws in the nation. A study published Friday by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration suggests Utah’s roads became safer after the state lowered the drunken-driving threshold to 0.05% blood-alcohol content. Crash and fatality rates also fell in neighboring states but not as significantly as they did in Utah. In a state where politics is heavily influenced by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the findings mark a triumph for lawmakers who argued the change was about safety, not religion. The state lowered the threshold over objections from the tourism industry. — Associated Press

Many Utah school buildings vulnerable to earthquakes

More than 72,000 students in Utah attend school in buildings that are especially vulnerable to an earthquake, according to a report released Thursday. It identified 119 public school campuses that have at least one unreinforced masonry building — structures made of brick with little to no steel reinforcement that could see significant damage even during small quakes. While a massive improvement from decades ago, officials say more is needed to reinforce or replace those buildings in order to prevent damage from the next major trembler. The report recommends several next steps, starting with a feasibility study to assess the most cost-effective ways to retrofit or rebuild vulnerable structures. It also suggested a similar inventory of charter and private school buildings, which were not included in the study. Read the full story. — Jon Reed

Utahns’ confidence in the economy is low but growing

According to a survey by the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, Utahn’s confidence in the state’s economy has grown slightly since December — but it’s still the second-lowest on record. The survey asked respondents about their views of present and future economic conditions. Confidence peaked in March but trended downward the rest of this year. And, though it’s risen, February’s score is roughly 15% less than a year ago. The institute’s senior research economist, Joshua Spolsdoff, said Utahns continue to worry about inflation and the pandemic’s impact on the economy. But, he added, the state has the second-lowest unemployment rate and the fastest-growing job market in the country. — Leah Treidler

Investigation of fraudulent hunting permits

The Division of Wildlife Resources is cracking down on people who have illegally obtained hunting permits. Typically, the cases involve people lying about where they live in an attempt to increase their odds. The DWR has investigated 95 cases of fraud since 2017, including a Californian applying as a resident and a Utahn using their grandfather’s identity. Charges can range from a class B misdemeanor to a third-degree felony. In a statement, the department’s statewide investigations captain, Wade Hovinga, said, “Many hunters wait their entire lives to have that opportunity, and it is really frustrating to see that limited permit go to someone who obtained it unethically and illegally.” — Leah Treidler


Olympians disagree about artificial snow

Olympians in Beijing are mainly skiing and boarding down artificial snow, which is a bit more compact and icy than natural snow. That has pros and cons — racers like its consistency and how fast they can go, but cross-country skiers are a bit warier. Peter Veals, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Utah who studies snow accumulation on mountains in the region said, “These skis that Nordic skiers use don’t really have sharp edges, and they seem to be worried more about the hard icy surface causing more crashes for the Nordic skiers.” He said there will likely be a growing call for fluffier fake snow for recreators in the future. — Madelyn Beck, Mountain West News Bureau

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