Coronavirus And Utah: What You Need To Know | KUER 90.1

Coronavirus And Utah: What You Need To Know

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Updated 1:40 p.m. MDT 8/4/2020

Total Cases: 41,907 | Total Hospitalizations: 2,482 | Current Hospitalizations: 181 | Deaths: 321

Utah reported on Tuesday 378 new cases of COVID-19. For the past week, the positivity rate is 9.8%, with an average of 428 daily cases. The state reported that seven more people have died. So far, 544,956 people have been tested. 

Steadying the COVID Fight

Utah met a goal set in early July by Gov. Gary Herbert to reduce its average daily case rate to 500 or fewer cases by August. He said at the time that the state would face the decision of increasing restrictions or requiring face masks if it could not lower the rate of new cases. 

During a July 30 press conference, Herbert made no indication that he would be making changes to the state’s restrictions. He said he was pleased that new cases had been decreasing across the state, but he wasn’t ready to “spike the football” in celebration. 

He did spend a significant portion of the press conference “myth-busting” COVID rumors in a question and answer session with State epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn. 

Dunn also said that while Salt Lake County is seeing the largest decrease in cases, rates are going down across the state. She said new incidents had gone from a plateau to actually dropping.

Testing Rates And The Reopening Process

Herbert had Brigham Young University researcher Dr. Ben Abbott present an overview of the research on masks to emphasize their efficiency at preventing transmission of the coronavirus, and the overall safety of wearing face coverings for nearly all populations.

Dunn said the decrease in cases in Salt Lake County looks like it is correlated to the face mask requirement implemented there, and that cases began to slow down about two weeks after the mandate went into effect.

However, the state has seen a reduction in the number of people getting tested per day, and the state’s positivity rate has not changed.

“Over the past three or four days we have seen three to four thousand people being tested per day, but before that we were at six to eight thousand so we need to be cautiously optimistic,” Dunn said.

State officials also unveiled their guidelines for reopening schools. The plan outlines a modified quarantine for students that allows them to return to the classroom — even if they have had direct exposure to a COVID case. But that’s only if they do not have any symptoms and are checked multiple times a day. Though, they wouldn’t be allowed to participate in extracurricular activities. 

Read more about schools reopening in Utah

The state’s seven-day average rate of increase is 1.07%. The Utah Department of Health said a rate of increase under 5% is a sign that Utahns’ efforts are still working to flatten the curve. 

But the total rate of positive tests is another key measure the health department watches and wants to see below 5% — Utah’s rate is currently 7.65% and has been increasing slightly every day for the past two-and-a-half months.

According to Johns Hopkins University, there have been 4,742,277 cases and 156,133 deaths in the United States.

Masks And Utah

As cases continue to surge, members of the Utah medical community have called for a statewide mask mandate.

“We really want our kids to go back to school,” said Tom Miller, chief medical officer at the University of Utah. “We want to go back to work, we want to travel. But we won’t be able to do any of these safely until we get our COVID-19 cases under control.”

Utah Senate and House Democrats sent a letter to the governor July 14 requesting a mask mandate for high-risk facilities and other protective actions.

But so far, the state has not issued a mandate, just a “challenge” to Utahns to voluntarily comply. The concept of a mask mandate has been met with animosity by some Utahns who have protested at public meetings across the state.

However, face coverings are required in all state facilities, including institutions of higher education and state run liquor stores. Herbert also announced that all students, faculty and staff must wear face coverings in k-12 school buildings and on school busses.

Salt Lake and Summit Counties started requiring masks in certain public settings as of June 27, including when entering and exiting restaurants, at community events and when shopping. Masks are also required in Grand County and the town of Springdale near Zion National Park.

Shifting From Orange To Yellow, And Yellow To Green

Under an executive order issued by the governor, nine rural counties moved to the green, “new normal” phase of COVID restrictions on June 19. Those are Beaver, Daggett, Duchesne, Emery, Garfield, Millard, Piute, Uintah and Wayne Counties.

Kane County moved from the yellow, low restrictions phase to the green, “new normal” level June 12. Mexican Hat and Bluff moved from orange, moderate restrictions phase to yellow then as well.

Salt Lake City will stay in the orange, moderate restrictions phase. The rest of the state is in the yellow, low restrictions phase.

Credit Renee Bright / KUER

Utah’s Leads Together 4.0

Gov. Gary Herbert and state officials released the state’s fourth version of its economic plan on June 17. The new plan lays out how the state will address economic recovery with grant programs, infrastructure projects and workforce training.

Utah Leads Together 4.0 also specifies how the state will use $50 million in federal funds received through the CARES act passed by Congress earlier this year. It recommends the lawmakers approve the COVID-19 Economic Recovery Grant plan which would send grants to local businesses hit hardest by the virus.

Parts of the state’s economic recovery plan include addressing health disparities in minority communities through measures like improved internet access to “bridge the digital divide.”

Utah Cases By Location

Source: https://coronavirus.utah.gov/case-counts/

Navajo Nation And Minority Communities Among Hardest Hit

The Utah portion of the Navajo Nation is the hardest hit area per capita in the state. The Utah Department of Health reported one new case on Utah Navajo for a total of 456 as of Aug. 4. Cases there have been trending downward after a long period of growth, but the infection rate is about 5.5 times greater than Utah’s overall rate.

ng period of growth, but the infection rate is about 5.6 times greater than Utah’s overall rate. 

Nightly curfews on the Navajo Nation have been extended through August 3.

After months without cases of COVID-19 on the Uintah and Ouray Reservation, health officials reported they have a total of 13 cases as of Aug. 4.

Data from the Utah Department of Health show people of color make up nearly 25% of the state’s population but more than half of its coronavirus cases. 

The Latinx community alone accounts for about 38% of all cases in the state, but only 14% of Utah’s population. As of July 3, there have been more than 10,000 cases among Utah’s Hispanic/Latino residents. Community leaders have said the number of cases are in large part due to people having jobs where they can’t work from home or properly socially distance.

To better address the needs of and communicate with the Latinx community, state officials are holding press briefings in Spanish as of June 25.

The rolling average case rate in the community has been decreasing since late June and as of July 24, Hispanic and Latinx communities no longer have the most cases of any demographic in Utah

Read more: KUER’s ongoing coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.

Long-term Care Facilities' Cases

Utah has more than 300 long-term care facilities, which include nursing homes and assisted living locations. As of Aug. 4, 327 of them have had confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Of people living in those facilities, 148 have died and 1,028 residents have tested positive for the virus. In case of an outbreak at a facility, Utah’s epidemiologist said the state can use its mobile strike teams to assist. Twelve locations along the Wasatch Front and one in San Juan County currently have at least five active cases.

Older people and those with underlying health conditions are considered at high risk of dying from COVID-19.

What do the shifting color levels mean?

Each color — ranging from red to green — corresponds with levels of social restrictions placed on businesses and activities, with green being the new normal. As the colors shift, non-essential businesses can resume operations, but they must follow social distancing guidelines and other rules put forth by the state. Those can be found here and are a part of the “Utah Leads Together 4.0” plan. 

Utah’s epidemiologist Angela Dunn said health officials will use three metrics to determine how the state needs to adjust its pandemic response going forward. Those are:

  1. Making sure the healthcare system can handle a potential surge. 
  2. Ensuring the state has the capacity to do widespread testing. 
  3. Effective contact tracing.

How is Utah tracking the virus?

Utah launched the “Healthy Together” app to help the state gather information on where people may be contracting the virus and help them track it. The application uses the same questionnaire as “TestUtah” — an online survey that asks people about their symptoms and COVID-19 exposure. 

Users can opt to allow the app to track their location and receive updates from the Department of Health if they may have come in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

What’s happening with schools and universities?

Utah released its guidelines for reopening K-12 public and charter schools. Individual school districts, however, will make the final decisions about how their schools will operate when classes resume in the fall.

Nearly all of Utah’s 41 school districts plan to hold in-person classes during which students and teachers will be required to wear masks. Schools plan to have online options for students who need to stay home.

Salt Lake City is still in the orange, moderate restriction level, which requires schools to close. Herbert modified that requirement to allow in-person instruction, however the district will continue online learning when they go back to school Sept. 8. 

Larry Madden, the district’s superintendent, said remote learning will look different in the fall than it did when the coronavirus pandemic first closed schools. He said schools will have more resources to help with mental health. The district also has nearly 13,000 laptops to distribute to students who don’t have computers. 

As for in-person teaching, Salt Lake school officials said they will only move to hybrid learning if the positivity rate of COVID-19 tests in the county and the rolling 7-day average of new cases drop below a certain level.

The state’s manual for returning to school outlines a modified quarantine procedure for students. The plan allows students, teachers and staff to continue working or learning in school buildings even if they have had direct exposure to a COVID case as long as they do not show any symptoms. Any student who has been exposed would not be allowed to attend extracurricular activities.

If a student tests positive for COVID-19, their entire household is required to quarantine for 14 days, and that student and their school-aged siblings would not be allowed to attend in person classes during that period.

Teachers and staff who test positive for COVID-19 would be required to quarantine at home until they have been fever-free from 24 hours and it has been 10 days since their symptoms began.

Drive up meal service for Salt Lake City school children will continue through the summer. Meals are available for all students, regardless of their free or reduced lunch status. Salt Lake City School District will operate 14 designated sites for the “Lunch Today, Breakfast Tomorrow” program through August 19.

Some grab and go dinners will also be provided at 12 of the schools on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Five sites are closed for the summer: Bryant Middle, Clayton Middle, Mary W. Jackson Elementary, Nibley Park, and Riley Elementary.

The University of Utah, Weber State, Utah State and Brigham Young University moved their classes entirely online for the summer semester.

On May 27, the Utah System of Higher Education released its plan for public colleges and universities to resume normal operations in the fall. Schools will have to monitor things like the prevalence of COVID-19 and make sure they have enough personal protective equipment. 

But the University of Utah, Utah State and Westminster College plan to hold in-person classes this fall. Both Utah State and the U said classes could be a hybrid with some students attending online and others on campus.

Brigham Young University announced June 23 it’s planning on resuming in-person classes when the fall semester starts Aug. 31. The school noted the decision could change based on what’s happening with COVID-19 trends in the state.

What’s the economic impact on Utah so far? 

For the week of July 19-July 25, 3,737 new Utahns filed for traditional benefits, according to the Department of Workforce Services. That’s down 17.1% compared to the week before. There were a total of 74,903 people in the state who received payments for a total of more than $62 million in federal and state benefits.

An additional 1,307 people filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, the fund set up for gig and non-traditional workers.

More than 5,000 Utahns stopped filing for benefits. The Department of Workforce Services says these trends are encouraging and expects them to continue as the economy reopens and people return to work.

Source: Utah Department of Workforce Services

How are worship services affected?

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced what they called a “careful, cautious reintegration of worship services.” It instructed local leaders to follow their government’s guidelines for reopening and said that in Phase I, Sunday worship services would be shorter and capped at 99 participants. 

The Church also asked all its members in Utah to wear a face mask while in public to help slow the spread of COVID-19. 

Select temples in the United States, Canada, Europe and Asia have reopened for marriage ceremonies. Twelve temples will move to Phase Two of the Church's reopening plan on July 27. That means people will be able to perform all living ordinances. Four of those are in the U.S., though none are in Utah.

Church leaders also announced the October General Conference would be held virtually like its April conference.

The Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, which covers the state of Utah, announcedparishes may resume public masses as long as they follow recommended health guidelines. Catholic and parochial schools are closed and will provide remote instruction.

What’s allowed for outdoor recreation and sports?

Bryce Canyon National Park reopened May 6 with limited access and resources. 

Capitol Reef National Park opened its visitors centers and Gifford House Museum and the Fruita Campground on. Visitors centers restrooms remain closed while being upgraded.

Cedar Breaks National Monument’s scenic road has also opened for the summer season.

Zion National Park and Dinosaur National Monument have resumed limited operations. Zion is open to visitors during daylight hours only with only certain roads and trails available. 

All monument roads and trails at Dinosaur will be open. Free permits will be available for backcountry camping and a number of developed campgrounds will be open with drinking water and restrooms available. River trips will also be allowed to resume, though most launch dates have already been assigned this season — any remaining ones will be given out on a first-come, first served basis. Following social-distancing guidelines — visitors centers and the Quarry exhibit will remain closed, as well as ranger-led programs.

The U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt has waived entrance fees for national parks that are open.

Arches and Canyonlands National Parks have resumed roads, trails and restroom access.

Many of Utah’s ski resorts are offering summer activities and selling season passes for this winter, but with discount or refund plans available.

The National Women’s Soccer League began playing live games in Utah on June 27 though no fans are allowed. 

The state’s professional women’s team — The Utah Royals — set up a “village” for the league’s nine teams. Every player, referee and essential staff member will be tested for COVID-19 two days before coming here, upon arrival and throughout their stay. 

The tournament wraps up on July 26 at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy. The Real Monarchs held their first game at Rio Tinto July 11 and allowed fans to attend. 816 people went to the game.

Brigham Young University reopened its athletic facilities to student athletes on June 1. The university’s football team and men’s and women’s basketball team will be allowed to resume voluntary workouts in accordance with NCAA and state guidelines. 

As of June 15, student athletes at the University of Utah will be able to resume voluntary workouts. But it will be a phased approach, with the football and basketball teams, along with gymnastics, volleyball and soccer being the first groups allowed back. 

Upon their arrival, every athlete will be tested for COVID-19 antibodies. The teams themselves will also come back in stages — with in-state students returning first, followed by out-of-state and then new athletes.

The NBA voted June 4 to resume its season in Orlando. The Utah Jazz have started training and games will resume starting July 31. The Jazz will play eight games before the playoffs. 

As for Real Salt Lake, Major League Soccer has begun its resumption of play in Orlando as well.