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AM News Brief: Designing a new state flag, conserving land in the West & record COVID hospitalizations

Photo of Utah flag on Capitol building.
Cory Dinter for KUER
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Utah is inviting residents to submit designs for the state’s new flag. That story and more in this morning's news brief.

Friday morning, Jan. 28, 2022

Northern Utah

Health officials say Utahns shouldn’t return to normal life yet

COVID hospitalizations in Utah have hit a record high — nearly 843 people were hospitalized in the state Thursday. But in a press conference that same day, Dr. Wing Province said people aren't taking the virus seriously enough. Province is the medical director for Intermountain’s Park City hospital. He said he’s heard a lot of people say they want to contract the virus to “get it over with” so they can return to normal life, but Wing said hospitalizations are still too high. He added health departments are reporting declining case numbers in some counties in the state, but those numbers may not be accurate. That’s because the supply of tests is extremely limited, and fewer people are getting one as a result. — Leah Treidler

State

Utah legislators debate bill to approve classroom materials

Utah lawmakers debated and heard public comments Thursday on the first of two “transparency” bills that would require a public process to approve classroom materials. The bill would require public school boards to “establish an open process, involving parents of students enrolled in the LEA [local education agency], to review and recommend instructional materials for board approval.” Board members would have to post recommendations online and officially adopt materials in a public meeting. The proposals come in response to parent concerns over what some say are inappropriate lessons, particularly around race and gender issues. Many teachers worry the measures will create additional layers of bureaucracy at a time when they are already overburdened. Read the full story.Jon Reed

Utah governor defends new security building for his farm

Gov. Spencer Cox is defending Utah's decision to spend roughly $260,000 on a building for security personnel on his farm. Cox lives at the Central Utah property when not at the governor's mansion in Salt Lake City. He said the security plans originated from the Department of Public Safety in response to increased threats — rather than from him. Plans posted on Utah’s public procurement website outline the construction of a 320-square-foot security monitoring office, including an attached carport for his protective detail. — Associated Press

Utah solicits state flag designs from residents

Utah is inviting residents to submit designs for the state’s new flag. That’s after a survey showed most Utahns don’t believe or are unsure the flag represents them personally. The current flag was created over a century ago, and state leaders say a new flag could “get to the heart of our identity now.” They add it could help Utahns face pressing issues together. Designs are due by April 30. — Leah Treidler

Region/Nation

Western companies urge Biden to conserve more land

In a letter sent to Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland Wednesday, over 80 Western businesses pressed the Biden administration to conserve more public lands. The companies included major corporations like REI and Patagonia. In the letter, they said many other outdoor areas are at risk of being degraded or lost, and they urged Haaland to use every tool possible to save these lands. There are nearly 23 million acres of public lands in Utah — roughly 42% of the state, and outdoor recreation contributed nearly $5 billion to the state’s economy in 2020, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. — Leah Treidler

Northern Nevada excels in its COVID response

CEO of Renown Health in Reno, Dr. Tony Slonim, is cautiously optimistic about the omicron variant in Northern Nevada. Slonim told reporters Thursday that data modeling shows the latest surge has already peaked, and he expects case rates to start dropping next month. Meanwhile, hospital capacity is in good shape — despite longer than usual wait times. Nevada’s good fortune stands in contrast to other states in the region. Some Idaho hospitals returned to crisis standards of care this week, as staffing shortages reduced their capacity. Earlier this month, Colorado had to implement crisis standards of care to reduce overcrowding in emergency rooms. — Bert Johnson & Dave Rosenthal, Mountain West News Bureau

Corrected: January 28, 2022 at 4:29 PM MST
A previous audio version of Jon Reed's education story incorrectly stated the number of parents involved with the conservative group Utah Parents United. It is about 4,000.

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