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PM News Brief: New State Epidemiologist, Praying For Rain & COVID-19 Long Haulers

A photo of Dr. Leisha Nolen.
Will Koeppen
Utah has a new state epidemiologist. The state’s department of health announced Thursday Dr. Leisha Nolen will serve in the role starting July 6. This story and more in Thursday evening's news brief.

Thursday evening, June 3, 2021


What Makes Utah’s Ranked Choice Voting Method Different From Others

For elections with multiple seats up for grabs — like a city council race with two open seats — Utah uses a different method of ranked choice voting than other states. Experts say Utah’s way of doing it helps out the majority party or majority political ideology. Under the state’s method, a race with two open seats would allow ballots to be counted twice. In non-Utah ranked choice voting, voters whose top choice won the first seat would not have a say in who wins the second seat. Read the full story.Sonja Hutson

COVID-19 Positivity Rate Creeps Back To 4%

Grand County is now the only county in Utah with a high transmission level for COVID-19. It comes as the state’s positivity rate for tests has crept back up to 4%. Two weeks ago it was 3.4%. Hospitalizations are down week to week. Health officials reported 343 new cases Thursday. Nearly 1.5 million Utahns have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. — Ross Terrell

Gov. Spencer Cox Asks Utahns To Pray For Rain

With Utah’s drought situation worsening, Gov. Spencer Cox is asking Utahns to turn to their faith. Cox asked residents Thursday to pray for rain over the next few days. That drew the ire of some people on social media. Facebook comments said the state should be focused on a more scientific approach — like watering lawns less. In his request, Cox said he’s already asked people to do things like take shorter showers and fix leaky faucets. He said he fears those efforts alone won’t be enough. The governor has already issued two states of emergencies due to the drought conditions. — Ross Terrell

Utah Department Of Health Names New State Epidemiologist

Utah has a new state epidemiologist. The state’s department of health announced Thursday Dr. Leisha Nolen will serve in the role starting July 6. She currently works in Anchorage, Alaska for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There she’s helped address health disparities among the Alaska Native population. UDOH said Nolen was also one of the first responders to a COVID-19 outbreak in a Seattle nursing home. She replaces Dr. Angela Dunn who left last month to lead the Salt Lake County Health Department. — Ross Terrell

Northern Utah

University Of Utah Health Opens Clinic For COVID-19 Long Haulers

University of Utah Health opened a new clinic to care for COVID-19 long haulers. Those are people who are dealing with the effects of the virus weeks or months after they were infected like chest and joint pain or sleep problems. Studies have found 30% of COVID-19 patients have extended symptoms. Dr. John Inadomi, chair of the department of internal medicine said during patient assessments they realized there is a big need for this type of ongoing treatment. “Even after this pandemic has been beaten, this disease will continue to plague us,” he said. The clinic has already started scheduling appointments. — Ivana Martinez

Salt Lake City School Board Member Arrested For Child Pornography

A member of the Salt Lake City School Board was arrested Wednesday on child pornography charges. 29-year-old Joél-Léhi Organista has not been convicted. Arrest records say he admitted to having images and videos of children as young as 5 on a Dropbox account. Investigators also found he had been soliciting nude photographs from kids on Snapchat and asking them to perform sexual acts. In a press conference today Thursday, other board members said Organista was asked to resign his seat immediately. He is also not allowed on district property. He began serving on the school board in January. — Jon Reed


Mountain West States Trying To Incentivize Vaccinations

New Mexico and Colorado have put millions in federal coronavirus aid towards cash lotteries to encourage residents to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Some other states in our region are rejecting that approach, despite low and slowing vaccination rates. Researchers say this is an opportunity to see if the lottery is an effective incentive. — Savannah Maher, Mountain West News Bureau

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