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PM News Brief: U safety officer named, Sundance goes virtual & shattered COVID record

Lit marquee at Egyptian Theatre says "Sundance Film Festival."
Jon Reed
Amid rising COVID cases, Sundance will now hold their festival screenings in an online format for 2022. That story and more in this evening's news brief.

Wednesday evening, Jan. 5, 2022

Northern Utah

State leaders commit to solving the challenge of a drying Great Salt Lake 

Utah’s Great Salt Lake hit record lows in 2021. Now, state leaders are calling for action. House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, hosted the Great Salt Lake Summit Wednesday, where experts and policymakers came together to talk about the crisis facing the lake and possible solutions. Presenters detailed the potential negative impacts to Utah’s air quality, snow and economy, if the lake continues to dry up. While the summit painted a bleak picture, there was a sense of hope for the future. Wilson said now is the time to get to work, and he committed himself to finding ways to address the challenge. Read the full story. — Emily Means

University of Utah hires new safety officer 

The University of Utah has named Keith Squires as its next chief safety officer. Squires has served in the role as interim since last April after replacing Marlon Lynch who left for Michigan State University. Squires said in a press release he’s honored to continue leading the U’s Safety Department. He also said the work goes beyond historical policing. University police have struggled to build trust with students after mishandling the 2018 murder of student athlete Lauren McCluskey. Squires served on the independent investigative review team that looked into the events leading up to her death. He has officially been with the U since 2020. — Ross Terrell

COVID forces Sundance to full virtual experience 

The Sundance Film Festival is moving fully online again this year. Organizers announced the change Wednesday citing the unprecedented surge in COVID-19 cases. They had been planning for a hybrid event, with screenings and events both in-person and online. In a statement, officials said it’s not feasible to gather thousands of people from around the world while overwhelmed communities are already struggling to provide essential services. The festival will still begin on Jan. 20. Organizers said they’ll be in touch with current pass and ticket holders with updates. — Jon Reed


Utah blows past 2020 single day COVID case record

Utah shattered its single-day COVID case count Wednesday as officials reported 7,247 new cases. The previous record was from 2020 at about 4,700. State epidemiologist Dr. Leisha Nolen said in a statement Utahns can expect numbers this high and possibly higher due to the omicron variant. Nolen urged people to get vaccinated and boosted saying “our hospitals are already stretched well beyond their capacity.” Health officials said 44 more people have died from the virus, but about half of those deaths occurred before Dec. 1. — Ross Terrell


Wages are up. But not as much as housing prices. 

A recent report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows wages are rising here in Utah and across the region. Average weekly wages rose between 4-7% between June 2020 and June 2021. That’s a bigger increase than two years ago but it isn’t matching skyrocketing housing costs especially in booming cities like Boise, Reno and Las Vegas. Those cities saw median home values rise by more than 20% last year according to an analysis from the nonprofit Headwaters Economics in Montana. Megan Lawson, an economist with that group, said she doesn’t expect housing prices to collapse anytime soon. But she does think they’ll eventually slow down and stabilize. — Nate Hegyi, Mountain West News Bureau 

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