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PM News Brief: Provo Mountain Lion, 2020 Census Count & Romney Disappointed

A photo of a mountain lion sitting in the grass.
Patrick Danforth Photography
/
New York State Zoo
A video of an encounter with a mountain lion near Provo on Saturday has garnered more than 1million views online. This story and more in Tuesday evening's news brief.

Tuesday evening, October 13, 2020

State

Utah Releases New COVID-19 Guideline System

Gov. Gary Herbert and the Utah Department of Health announced a new system of COVID-19 health restrictions Tuesday. Under the new transmission index system, counties will automatically be moved to different levels — high, moderate or low — based on their per-capita case count, test positivity rate and the state’s intensive care unit capacity. The system is aimed at curbing a spike in case counts the state’s been experiencing for more than a month. Masks are required in high transmission areas and for the next two weeks, they’ll also be required in moderate transmission areas. After that, they’re just strongly recommended. Read the full story. — Sonja Hutson

Mike Lee On Court Packing On Day Two Of SCOTUS Confirmation Hearings

Sen. Mike Lee, R- UT, questioned U.S. Supreme Court Nominee Amy Coney Barrett for nearly 30 minutes Tuesday, on the second day of confirmation hearings. Lee asked Barrett about issues ranging from healthcare and abortion to court packing, a move where more justices would be added to the Supreme Court. The Biden campaign has refused to answer if he would pack the court if Barrett is confirmed. Lee said if packing happens, it could change Americans’ way of life. “You can't do that without inevitably threatening things like religious freedom, things like free speech, things that are themselves often unpopular but are protected by the Constitution,” Lee said. He ended his time by saying he has “immense confidence” in Barrett’s ability to serve on the Court. — Ross Terrell

Romney Bemoans Current State Of Politics

Sen. Mitt Romney, R- UT, shared his feelings Tuesday morning about the country’s current political climate in the leadup to November’s election. In a statement on Twitter, Romney said he was “troubled” by the “hate-filled” situation, alluding to comments by President Donald Trump toward Democratic candidate Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. But he said Democrats aren’t innocent either, like when Pelosi tore up Trump’s State of the Union speech earlier this year and when talk show host Keith Olbermann called Trump a terrorist. Olbermann responded saying Romney should fix the causes of the division, which he said were the Republican party and Trump. In his statement, Romney asked leaders to “tone it down” before things get worse. — Emily Means

Northern Utah

Analyzing A Slate Canyon Trail Human/Cougar Encounter

A video of an encounter with a mountain lion near Provo on Saturday has garnered more than 1 million views online. Kyle Burgess happened across the cougar’s kittens on Slate Canyon trail. The video he shared on his Instagram shows the animal walking toward him for nearly five minutes as he backs away, shouting before eventually throwing a rock at it, causing it to turn around. Scott Root, with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, said Burgess did everything right. “Everybody needs to realize that it’s not uncommon to have mountain lions in the foothills along the Wasatch Front,” Root said. “Now, Mountain lions aren’t out to get us and they’re very secretive.” Root said if you are on trails, it’s best to carry bear spray or travel in numbers and if you are attacked by a cougar, fight back. — Ross Terrell

Utah State University Expands COVID-19 Testing

Utah State University is expanding its COVID-19 testing program. Until now, tests had only been available to students who were showing symptoms. Going forward, employees will be able to get tested, as well as those without symptoms who think they were exposed to a positive case. There is also a new testing center, on the east side of Maverik Stadium. The school says federal CARES Act funding means tests are free, and results should be available in 24-48 hours. — Caroline Ballard

Region

Tight Races Could Delay Election Night Results

Election Day is creeping up, and there are still signs that some states in our region may have trouble calling winners on Nov. 3. With record numbers of absentee ballots, it could take extra time to announce winners in states with close Congressional races, like Montana and Colorado, or close presidential races, like Nevada. Utah and Nevada may even have an extra hurdle: their absentee ballots aren’t due until days after the election. Jaclyn Kettler, a political science professor at Boise State University, said delays over a week may cause serious concerns. She pointed to Florida’s election in 2000. It took weeks to figure out whether former President George W. Bush or Al Gore won there. The Supreme Court got involved and ultimately, many remained concerned that there was something insidious going on. — Madelyn Beck, Mountain West News Bureau

Ocean Temperatures And Drought Predictions

Utah State University researchers can now forecast drought and water levels of the Colorado River by looking at surface temperatures of the ocean. Current drought predictions are based on short-term indicators like monthly drought monitors, but weather events can affect that modeling. By using long-term data about how climate changes have affected the ocean, researchers say they can predict droughts years in advance which can help water managers, farmers and policymakers prepare for shortages in the Colorado River basin. — Lexi Peery

2020 Census Count Can End Early

The 2020 census count can end early after all following a decision handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday. The ruling overturns a lower court’s order that the Census Bureau continue the count through the end of the month. The bureau had said it would need that time to make up for delays related to the coronavirus pandemic. Ending the count now would have implications for rural areas like the Navajo Nation, where census workers have yet to visit around 5% of houses. — Kate Groetzinger, Bluff