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PM News Brief: Test to Stay ending, Park City student walkout & ag secretary on Capitol Hill

Photo of Main Street in Park City, UT.
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Students in Park City staged a walkout to protest anti-mask mandate efforts in the Utah Legislature on Thursday. That story and more in this evening's news brief.

Thursday evening, Jan. 20, 2022

State

Utah’s Test to Stay program for schools nearing its end 

Utah lawmakers are poised to officially end the state’s Test to Stay program in schools. That’s the requirement to screen all students for COVID-19 if a certain number of them contract the virus over a two-week period. Republican lawmakers are pushing it through without a committee hearing, but Democrats say that’s needed to get public input. The governor temporarily suspended the program last week. He argued it’s not effective against the omicron surge and that it was maxing out the state’s testing capacity. The new bill would end the program permanently. It has already passed the House and is expected to clear the Senate Friday. — Jon Reed

Northern Utah

Sundance gets underway. Once again, completely virtual 

As the Sundance Film Festival marks its 44th year, it’s once again delivering its lineup of films, talks and performances to audiences in an online-format — much like the 2021 event. Organizers made the call to move the event fully online just two weeks before it began this year due to the omicron surge. The switch to online will bring significant impacts to hotels, restaurants, galleries and front-line workers who depend on tips and often see huge increases during the festival. Jennifer Wesselhoff, president of the Park City Chamber of Commerce, said local businesses are getting used to operating in the uncertainty of COVID and they are optimistic about the remainder of the winter ski season. Read the full story. — Jon Reed

Park City students walkout to protest anti-mask mandate legislation 

Students at Park City High School walked out Thursday to protest the Utah legislature’s attempt to overturn a mask mandate. KPCW in Park City reported about 200 masked students gathered in front of the school. They urged each other to contact their state representatives about the issue. The Senate passed a resolution this week to end Salt Lake and Summit counties local mask requirements. Each county issued one in an attempt to slow the spread of the omicron variant. The House must still approve the measure to overturn the mandate, but because it’s a resolution it doesn’t need the governor’s signature, cannot be vetoed and would also take effect immediately. — Ross Terrell

University of Utah student athletes continue high GPA trend

University of Utah student athletes set their fourth highest grade point average of all time during the fall semester. The U announced Thursday across all sports, athletes had a 3.3 GPA. The women’s cross country team led the way with a 3.7 average. On the men’s side, the ski team set the pace with a 3.5. The success has also carried over into a top graduation rate in the country. The university said its 93% rate is tied for the third-highest among Power 5 public institutions. Those are colleges in the Pac-12, Big 10, Big 12, SEC and ACC. — Ross Terrell

Region

U.S. ag secretary makes appearance on Capitol Hill 

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack faced lawmakers on Capitol Hill Thursday to answer questions on everything from food insecurity to inflation to the Biden administration’s efforts to break up big meatpacking monopolies. Vilsack told members of the House Agriculture Committee that 85% of beef processing is in the hands of four companies. Early in the pandemic, big meat processing plants lost workers and slowed down. That meant ranchers got paid less for their cattle but consumers paid more for their beef. Meanwhile, the big processing companies made big profits. The Biden administration recently announced it would use $1 billion from the American Rescue Plan to help bolster small, independent meat processors across the country. — Nate Hegyi, Mountain West News Bureau

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