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AM Brief: Utah’s stubborn COVID hospitalizations, gerrymandering ‘F’s & geothermal energy comments open

Utah COVID Hospitalizations, former ICU patient
courtesy Intermountain Healthcare
A nurse checks in on a COVID patient that recently transferred out of the ICU.

Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2022

Northern Utah

Prioritizing water issues in Utah County

For the first time in two years, Utah County commissioners met in person to address the state of the county Tuesday. They spoke about water, population growth and goals for the next year. As the population is expected to double in the next 40 years, commissioner Bill Lee said resources will be taxed. He said the historic drought has made them think critically about water. "We have to be looking in a forward motion [about] what we can do," he said. "We have talked with each other about what we can do. We're looking at spending about $50 million on infrastructure, development, and use of water.” Some of the county's goals include improving the water supply with aquifer recharge areas and a focus on upgraded cybersecurity and public safety. Read the full story.Ivana Martinez

COVID cases decline — but hospitalizations remain high

University of Utah Health officials said COVID cases are dropping in the state, but warned rates are still high. Overall hospitalizations have decreased 46% since the end of January, while at the same time the health system remains stretched thin. “We only have a few open acute care beds and many people that need those beds," said Dr. Kencee Graves, associate chief medical officer for inpatient health. “Our ERS are busy. So I would say that while COVID might be waning in our community, we still do see effects here in the hospital.” The Utah Department of Health reported 2,608 new cases over the weekend. There were 13 deaths, and 415 people remain hospitalized — a sharp decrease from January, but still higher than at most points during the pandemic. U Health officials said people should get vaccines and booster shots, adding boosters are critical to combat the omicron variant. — Leah Treidler

Southern Utah

Money from visitor lodgings surge

Tourism boomed in southwest Utah in 2021 and with that so did revenue from the transient room tax, which is money from visitor lodging. A bill in the Legislature will give some counties that are home to national parks more flexibility on how they use that money. Washington County collected almost $9 million in transient room taxes the year before the pandemic. By 2021, the tax brought in more than $15 million — a record high. Kevin Lewis, the director of tourism in Washington County, said now, counties can only save half the total from the previous year. The proposal would temporarily change that. Also, counties would be able to spend up to 10% of the revenue on destination development. Read the full story. — Lexi Peery

You can now weigh in on Beaver County geothermal project

Public comment is open for a renewable energy project to build up to 20 geothermal exploration wells in Beaver County, spread out across 1,885 acres. The Bureau of Land Management said the project is in step with the Biden-Harris administration’s goal to reach a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035. BLM officials say this is just one of many existing and upcoming renewable energy projects. Public comments must be submitted by Mar. 24. — Leah Treidler


Mineral Basin lifts are open

In the wake of Tuesday's Blackhawk helicopter crash, lifts in Snowbird's Mineral Basin are now scheduled to open this morning. The two Utah National Guard helicopters were involved in a training accident on U.S. Forest Service land close to the base of the Mineral Basin Express chairlift. While landing, snow kicked up, causing a blade to separate from one of the helicopters. The blade then hit the other helicopter. There were no major injuries and no fuel leakage. An investigation has been launched into the mishap.

Bad marks for lawmakers on gerrymandering report card

Utah lawmakers received a report card Tuesday where half of them did not fare well. The grades for each lawmaker’s voting record and advocacy during the state’s redistricting process were released by the anti-gerrymandering organization Better Boundaries. It included lawmakers whose districts voted in favor of creating the independent redistricting committee in 2018. Half of all the representatives received an F after supporting and voting for maps which Better Boundaries said were drawn behind closed doors or split up communities of interest. That included both the House and Senate Democratic minority leaders. Ten lawmakers earned A’s — all of whom are Democrats — and 3 Democrats earned B’s. — Leah Treidler


Name change in the works for 600 geographic features

The U.S. Interior Department plans to remove a derogatory name from more than 600 geographic features. Tribal advocates have been pushing to remove the word for years, and now, the department is releasing a list of potential replacement names. Helen Fillmore, a member of the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California, told KNPR’s Native Nevada podcast the change gives Indigenous people better access to public lands. “It creates this opportunity for healing, this opportunity for people to come together and this opportunity for Washoe people to reconnect to the landscape in a much needed way,” she said. Members of the public will have a chance to weigh in, and the department will consult with tribal communities. — Bert Johnson, Mountain West News Bureau

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