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AM News Brief: Diversifying DPS, Coal Magnate Robert Murray Dies & COVID App Across State Lines

Photo of a billboard that reads, "Welcome to Utah."
Brian Albers
/
KUER
Out of 575 officers at the Utah Department of Public Safety, only one is Black. Meanwhile, about 516 officers are white according to a new report from the department. This story and more in the Monday morning news brief.

Monday morning, October 26, 2020

State

Weekend COVID-19 Cases

New COVID-19 cases in Utah remained high over the weekend. The Department of Health reported more than 1,600 cases on both Saturday and Sunday. The state’s seven-day average for new cases is now just under 1,400 and the positivity rate is at a new high at about 17%. Health officials are warning the surge could mean hospitals will soon be overrun. Right now, 76% of Utah’s ICU beds are being used. Five more people have died from the disease bringing the state’s total to 572. — Jon Reed

Lawmakers Prep For Session During Pandemic

Utah lawmakers will convene next session with safety precautions in place. The 2021 Legislative session is set to begin in January. House and Senate leaders have planned for daily, rapid testing for lawmakers and staffers in chambers to be administered by the Health Department. Senate President Stuart Adams said there remains some concern despite plexiglass dividers now between each desk and lawmakers and staff will have the option to work virtually. — Associated Press

Diversifying Utah’s Department of Public Safety

Out of 575 officers at the Utah Department of Public Safety, only one is Black. Meanwhile, about 516 officers are white according to a new report from the department. It also found Latino, Asian and Indigenous people are underrepresented among DPS officers. Public Safety Commissioner Jess Anderson said they need to do better when it comes to recruiting more racially diverse officers to help establish trust between police and communities. He said “it brings an inherent wealth to your organization to be able to be diverse, to be able to see outside of yourself.” Anderson said his department has been meeting with community advocates to discuss possible reforms following protests against police brutality this summer. The report also outlines a few policy recommendations for the Legislature to consider, such as use-of-force reporting and mandatory training for officers. — Emily Means

Region

Coal Magnate Robert Murray Dies At 80

Coal magnate Robert Murray died Sunday at his home in Ohio less than a week after announcing his retirement as board chairman of a major U.S. coal operator. The Intelligencer - Wheeling News Register reported Murray began his career as an underground coal miner and eventually formed his own company, Murray Energy. In 2007, Murray Energy’s Crandall Canyon Mine in Utah collapsed, trapping and killing miners and search and rescue crews. Murray recently had applied for federal black lung benefits after he said he was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. Murray, who had relied on supplemental oxygen for a few years, said he believed his ailment stemmed from his time working as an underground coal miner. — Associated Press

Cases Surging Across Country

Utah is among about half of U.S. states that have seen their highest daily coronavirus infection numbers so far at some point in October. The country as a whole came very close to back-to-back record daily infection rates on Friday and Saturday. Some Northeastern states hit hard in the spring are seeing numbers rise again and COVID-19 is surging in Idaho. A hospital in Twin Falls brought in nurses from Boise, scaled back elective surgery and has stopped admitting pediatric patients. More than 350 doctors, nurses and other health workers in New Mexico signed a letter imploring residents to stay home as much as possible, wear masks and limit large gatherings. — Associated Press

New COVID Tracing App Aims To Connect States

A new app launched Sunday in our region aims to help people see if they’ve come in contact with anyone who’s tested positive for COVID-19. It’s called CO Exposure Notifications. Apple and Google created it and gave it to Colorado for free to help limit COVID’s spread there. State officials said you have to enable notifications for it to work, but it doesn’t trace your location or identity. They also expect it to work with apps launching in Wyoming, North Dakota and California, and they’re hoping it’ll eventually work with similar apps in Nevada and Utah. — Madelyn Beck, Mountain West News Bureau