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PM News Brief: COVID-19 Guidelines Change, Zion Shuttle Tickets & Deb Haaland Appointment

A photo of the shuttle buses at Zion National Park.
Michelle Callahan
/
Flickr
Officials at Zion National Park have started plans to reopen shuttles into the park for next season but they are hoping to avoid ticketing scalping. This story and more in Thursday evening's news brief.

Thursday morning, December 17, 2020

State

Gov. Gary Herbert Holds Final PBS Utah Press Conference

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert had his last monthly news conference Thursday, before his time in office ends in January. Herbert reflected on the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which took up most of his last year in office. He said he wouldn’t have done anything differently about no-bid contracts awarded for a testing app and supplies, nor would he have implemented a mask mandate sooner, which he eventually did in early November. Although he considers himself to be conservative in his politics, Herbert said he feels he has tried to respect and understand others. And he believes Gov.-elect Spencer Cox, who will be inaugurated on Jan. 4, will build on his work in Utah. Read the full story. — Emily Means

Utah Announces Changes To COVID-19 Guidelines

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert is loosening COVID-19 restrictions for classrooms and bars. New school guidelines say students who were in close contact with someone who tested positive will not have to quarantine if that exposure occurred while they were both wearing masks. "That qualifies as a low risk exposure," Herbert said. "This can provide a safe option for students to continue to have their instruction — less disruption for the teacher in the classroom, less disruption at home for parents." Herbert is also lifting the ban on selling alcohol in bars after 10 p.m., effective Friday. — Sonja Hutson

30 More Utahns Die From COVID-19

Utah health officials announced Thursday 30 more people have died from COVID-19, a new record for the state. Officials also announced 3,203 new cases of the disease. But the seven day average of daily cases has been decreasing for about the past 10 days. During that time, it dropped by more than 500 cases. But health officials are still urging Utahns to remain vigilant and continue social distancing, as 556 people are currently hospitalized and about 96% of the state’s ICU beds are in use. — Sonja Hutson

Utah Unemployment Update

About 4,400 Utahns filed for new unemployment claims last week, down about 8% compared to the week before. That’s according to data released Thursday by the Department of Workforce Services. The number of people who continue to receive benefits has steadily declined but still more than 26,000 Utahns do not have a job. Since the start of the pandemic, the state has paid out more than $578 million in traditional unemployment claims. — Ross Terrell

Utah Department Of Transportation Fiber Installation

The Utah Department of Transportation is using federal CARES Act funding to install fiber optic connections for rural communities. The state allocated $30 million of aid to finish the projects. It has until Dec. 30 to earmark CARES Act funds. The infrastructure will bring high speed internet and Wi-Fi hot spots to places in Millard, Sevier and Box Elder Counties. It will also allow UDOT to install more cameras, weather stations and sensors along the state’s highways. — Caroline Ballard

Northern Utah

Salt Lake City Rental Assistance Fund

There’s still more than $1 million available to Salt Lake City residents for rental assistance. Mayor Erin Mendenhall said the city’s fund is grant money and doesn't have to be repaid. “It can be used to pay for your current rent or past rent,” she said. “It’s available to renters in Salt Lake City regardless of your documentation status.” Mendenhall said people are struggling and they can’t afford to wait and see if Congress will pass another round of coronavirus relief. She said people can apply even if they weren’t eligible for federal stimulus checks. To get rental assistance help, Salt Lake City residents can call Utah Community Action at 801-359-2444. — Ross Terrell

Southern Utah

Zion National Park Shuttle Concerns

Officials at Zion National Park have started plans to reopen shuttles into the park for next season but they are hoping to avoid ticketing scalping. That's where people purchase and resell the tickets for higher prices. The Spectrum reported that a temporary shuttle ticket system was introduced over the summer to help reduce overcrowding during the coronavirus pandemic. It required visitors to purchase a $1 ticket and reserve a ride time. Officials said the shuttle was sold out for days in advance and remained booked despite releasing some tickets the day before or day of. Park spokesperson Amanda Rowland said that tickets were also resold, though the exact number is unknown. — Associated Press

Region/Nation

Deb Haaland Selected In Historic Cabinet Appointment

NPR has reported that Rep. Deb Haaland, D-New Mexico, has been tapped to lead the Department of the Interior under President-elect Joe Biden. If she is confirmed by the Senate, Haaland will be the first Indigenous person to serve as a cabinet secretary. In a recent interview with New Mexico’s local PBS station, Haaland said Biden’s Interior Department should focus on restoring environmental protections and repairing its relationship with tribal nations.Savannah Maher, Mountain West News Bureau