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PM Brief: Uinta Basin EPA settlement, busy airport travel & wildfire smoke in nursing homes

Salt Lake City Airport Departures Board, November 2021
Renee Bright
/
KUER
A departures board at the Salt Lake City International Airport, Nov. 8, 2021.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

State

Utah shifting to “steady state” COVID response 

By Thursday, Utah’s COVID-19 response will be at what officials are calling a “steady state.” That means testing will significantly ramp down and data about the virus will be released weekly, rather than every weekday. Free, state-sponsored testing sites will close Thursday, and most testing will come from providers and private businesses. Leisha Nolen, the state’s epidemiologist, said despite the shift, the health department is still closely monitoring the virus by tracking hospitalizations and wastewater. Nolen also encouraged people to receive a vaccine booster. About 28% of all Utahns have received one. — Lexi Peery

EPA settles with two companies for Uinta Basin violations 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has settled two lawsuits over alleged Clean Air Act violations in Utah’s Uinta Basin. Both cases involved out-of-state businesses — Canadian-based Crescent Point and Texas-based EP Energy. Each was accused of violating requirements for controlling volatile organic compound emissions from storage tanks. Those compounds are key to forming the pollutant ozone, something much of northern Utah has struggled with. Crescent will be fined $3 million. EP Energy will pay a penalty of $700,000 and must take measures to come in line with regulations. The state will receive half of the civil penalties paid. — Caroline Ballard 

Northern Utah

Military medical team departs University of Utah hospital  

The final military medical crew in the nation completed their COVID clinical mission Wednesday at the University of Utah Hospital. Deploying the military medical team was part of a federal approach to address the stress on hospitals from the pandemic. A crew of about 20 health care workers first arrived at the U’s hospital at the beginning of March. During their stay, they helped clear about a quarter of 500 backlogged surgeries. Lt. Greta Stevens was stationed at the hospital and said this deployment was a learning opportunity. Dr. Kencee Graves, associate chief medical officer at the hospital, said their team will manage the best they can as the crew leaves. Utah’s positivity rate is now below 3%. Two months ago it was nearly 30%. Read the full story. — Ivana Martinez

Flying out of Salt Lake this week? It’s gonna be busy

From Wednesday through Friday, Salt Lake City airport officials say travelers should expect it to be busy. As spring break approaches for many Utah schools, between 25,000-28,000 people are anticipated to make their way through the airport. Officials said April 1 will probably be the busiest day for departures, while April 8 and 9 will be the busiest for arrivals. To deal with the crowd surge, the airport says more staff will be working and they have also developed an enhanced parking plan. — Ross Terrell 

Salt Lake City is looking for park rangers

Salt Lake City is looking for 16 people to join its new park ranger program. The rangers are intended to educate people about rules and promote good stewardship of the city’s public lands. They’ll be stationed at a handful of parks across the city like Pioneer and Liberty. In the past, some community members have criticized the program as a way to police homelessness in parks. Mayor Erin Mendenhall defended the program then, saying the city doesn’t criminalize homelessness, but the rangers’ most important job will be to address safety issues. — Emily Means 

Region/Nation

Wildfire smoke’s effect on nursing homes

Elderly adults are particularly vulnerable to wildfire smoke. A research team at Boise State University is studying how these small particles make their way into nursing homes. Two years ago, researchers placed indoor and outdoor air quality sensors at four skilled nursing facilities across Idaho. In terms of wildfires, 2020 was record setting for the West and the smoke from those fires made its way to Idaho. Data from the sensors showed that all four facilities were affected by smoke, some more than others. A new grant will help the team, which includes the university’s center for the study on aging, understand how things like HVAC systems or opening and closing windows affect smoke in a facility. — Rachel Cohen, Mountain West News Bureau 

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