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AM News Brief: Post-holidays COVID surge, above average snowpack & solar development on public lands

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The Biden administration is opening up public lands in the Mountain West to more solar development. That story and more in this morning's news brief.

Monday morning, Jan. 3, 2022

State

COVID-19 cases surging after the holiday season

In the wake of the holidays, COVID-19 is spiking in Utah. The Utah Department of Health unofficially reported around 4,700 new cases on Friday — one of the largest single-day case counts the state has ever recorded. The last time cases were this high was Dec. 30, 2020. Friday’s case count is a significant increase — more than triple the number reported on Christmas Eve day. Health experts warned weeks ago that COVID numbers would rise after the holiday season because people were going to gather and spread the virus. Officials recommend that everyone get vaccinated and boosted as soon as possible. — Leah Treidler

Follow KUER’s coverage of the coronavirus in Utah.

Health officials urge caution as students return to school

Schools are starting up this week, and, once again, that’s happening in the middle of another COVID surge. Utah’s state epidemiologist Leisha Nolen said it’s pretty likely that cases will continue to rise as students return to class. While schools are still limited by state law in what safety measures they can impose, she said some districts are working with local officials to get mask mandates in place. But even without one, she said wearing a mask is a good idea. Dr. Eddie Stenehjem with Intermountain Healthcare also recommended keeping classrooms as ventilated as possible. He said the good news is we know how to slow COVID-19, but it’ll be up to Utahns to follow the recommendations. Read the full story.Jon Reed

Snow storms added needed inches to the state’s snowpack

Utah’s snow season is off to a good start. The Salt Lake Tribune reports the snowpack is above average across nearly the entire state. Storms in the past few weeks have brought in that much needed snow, and the added inches will provide welcome relief to the state’s ongoing drought. The Salt Lake City area's snowpack is at 7% above normal levels based on data from the National Resources Conservation Service. But ski resorts say they still need more snow to open all of their lifts and terrain. — Alex Vejar, The Salt Lake Tribune

This article is published through the Utah News Collaborative, a partnership of news organizations in Utah that aims to inform readers across the state.

Northern Utah

Utes lose to Ohio State in wild Rose Bowl

University of Utah Athletics is calling the loss of the Rose Bowl historic and the finale of a historic season. Ohio State scored the winning field goal against the Utes in the last two minutes of the game, making the final score 45-48. This was the first time the Utes ever made it to the Rose Bowl. The Utes will kick off the 2022 season in September in Florida where they’ll face off against the Gators. — Leah Treidler

Members of the most diverse Salt Lake City Council ever will take the Oath of Office

Salt Lake City will swear in its most diverse council ever Monday according to a statement from the SLC Council Communication Team. Five elected officials will take the oath of office at noon. The majority of council members will be people of color and most will be LGBTQ+. The event will take place at the City & County Building and is open to the public. All attendees must wear masks. — Leah Treidler

Region/Nation

President pushes for more solar energy in western states

The Biden administration is opening up public lands in the Mountain West to more solar development. The Bureau of Land Management is looking for companies to build giant solar farms on about 90,000 acres of federal public land in Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico. It’s part of President Joe Biden’s push towards more renewable energy in the country. The administration believes solar can power nearly half of the nation by 2035, but the push towards more solar could also alter desert habitats. A peer-reviewed study earlier this year suggests solar panels can reduce populations of the rare Barstow Wooly sunflower while increasing the population of a more common native plant in the Mojave desert. — Nate Hegyi, Mountain West News Bureau

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