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AM News Brief: Postponed surgeries, increased COVID precautions & avalanche warning

Photo of the outside of the University of Utah Hospital building
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The University of Utah hospital is postponing non-essential surgeries as COVID outbreaks stretch staff to the limit. That story and more in this morning's news brief.

Wednesday morning, Jan. 5, 2022

Northern Utah

The University of Utah hospital will delay non-essential surgeries 

The University of Utah hospital is postponing non-essential surgeries as COVID outbreaks stretch staff to the limit. Dr. Russel Vinik, chief medical operations officer, said COVID cases have increased by 400% since Christmas Eve, and the hospital has reached 100% capacity. He said hundreds of staff members have gotten sick in the past few days, despite being fully vaccinated, and that’s forced many uninfected members to pick up extra shifts. The rate of infection among staff members has doubled — hindering their ability to care for patients. Because of that, the hospital will postpone about 20% of all surgeries. University of Utah hospital experts also predicted the omicron variant will sweep through the state like a “tornado,” but they hope the rapid spread will lead to herd immunity. — Leah Treidler

Utah Democrats condemn tech company founder’s offensive comments

One of the founders of the Lehi-based tech company Entrata is no longer with the company after making antisemitic and anti-vaccine comments. David Bateman made the offensive remarks in an email sent to political leaders and other tech CEOs. The email's content was made public Tuesday. Later that night on Twitter, Entrata CEO Adam Edmunds said the company firmly condemns antisemitism, and that Batemen was asked to resign. Utah Democrats are among those condemning Bateman's antisemitic statements. The Democrats said, "This rhetoric perpetuates harmful stereotypes about Jewish people and puts Utah's Jewish community in danger." In a statement released Tuesday night, they also claimed Bateman is a prominent member of the Republican party and that he and Entrata are major financial backers of it. They're calling on Republicans to condemn Batemen's statements and return Entrata's donations. — Pamela McCall

Salt Lake County Health Department recommends increased COVID precautions

The Salt Lake County Health Department is advising stricter precautions in the wake of the omicron outbreak according to new guidance issued Tuesday. Officials advise everyone over 2 years old to wear masks in public indoor spaces, regardless of vaccination status, including grocery stores, classrooms and childcare centers. They add that anyone who hasn’t gotten both a vaccine and a booster should get fully vaccinated as soon as possible. Until then, those people should avoid large gatherings. As of Sunday, 24% of people in the county are unvaccinated, and only 65% of those eligible have gotten the booster. — Leah Treidler

Avalanche warning issued in northern Utah mountains

A backcountry avalanche warning has been issued for the mountains of northern Utah. The Utah Avalanche Center said the warning is in effect until 6 a.m. Thursday. Heavy snow and strong winds are in the forecast. There’s also potential for rain on snow at low elevations that will create dangerous avalanche conditions and a high avalanche danger. Backcountry users are asked to stay off of and out from under slopes steeper than 30 degrees. — Pamela McCall

State

Utah Food Bank expects demand to remain high in 2022

Demand at the Utah Food Bank and pantries across the state increased during the holidays, which is a yearly trend. The number of people asking for resources at the Utah Food Bank skyrocketed in 2020 then leveled out early last year. But CEO Ginette Bott said now there’s been an uptick in people asking for help and she expects that to continue. Kristen Clark oversees operations at Switchpoint — a community resource center in St. George with an emergency food pantry. Clark said there are compounding crises, but inflation is a big one right now. Bott said those looking for help should get in touch with the food bank to find their nearest resources. Read the full story.Lexi Peery, St. George

Region/Nation

Navajo Nation will distribute more hardship assistance checks

The Navajo Nation is sending out another round of hardship assistance checks to its citizens. The Nation’s council approved the second payment Monday. It will send $2,000 checks to a quarter of a million people who are qualified. Navajo officials said they will also give $600 to citizens under the age of 18, and up to 95,000 people could qualify for that. The money comes from federal pandemic relief approved last year by the Biden administration. Nation President Jonathan Nez has until next Thursday to sign or veto the bill, and Navajo Nation citizens won’t have to reapply for this round of assistance. — Ross Terrell

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