Live coronavirus updates for Monday, March 23: Utah has 257 cases; city officials tell missionary families to stay in cars at airport

USA Utah News

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It’s Monday, March 23. We’ll provide the latest coronavirus updates involving Utah throughout the day.

[Read complete coronavirus coverage here.]

5:44 p.m.: Davis County victim attended Bountiful Temple; 2 Utah LDS temples now closed from the virus

The first Utahn to die after contracting COVID-19 was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who had attended the faith’s Bountiful Temple “on a day in the week prior to his diagnosis,” church spokeswoman Irene Caso said Monday.

The Salt Lake City-based faith subsequently closed its Bountiful Temple, becoming the first Latter-day Saint temple in Utah to shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic.

On Monday, Draper’s Oquirrh Mountain Temple, which had been closed for maintenance, will remain shut down for an additional week for evaluation, Caso said, “due to a potential COVID-19 exposure.”

The Davis County man who died was over age 60, had underlying medical conditions and was hospitalized for two days before his death, the state Department of Health announced Sunday. He was treated at Lakeview Hospital in Bountiful before he died.

His name has not been released by the state. He was exposed to the virus through travel, Angela Dunn, the state epidemiologist, said at the Sunday news briefing on the virus. The Davis County Health Department is working to identify and notify anyone who may have been in close contact with the patient, now presumably those that may have interacted with him at the temple.

— Peggy Fletcher Stack

5:26 p.m. Zion National Park makes partial closures

Zion National Park this week will close its campgrounds and a section of the famous Angels Landing Trail to help contain the coronavirus. On Tuesday, park officials will shut down the trail from Scout Lookout to the end of the trail, according to a news release. The West Rim Trail will stay open. The park’s campgrounds will close Wednesday at noon. Camping is not allowed in other areas of the park, the release stated.

Despite those changes, the park will stay open, and visitors will be permitted to drive up Zion Canyon Scenic Drive until all parking spaces are full. After that, the drive will open and close intermittently with the availability of parking spots. The reopening of campgrounds and the trail and the resumption of shuttle service into the park will “depend on the eventual resolution of the COVID-19 emergency,” the press release stated.

To protect public safety, the park has also replaced staffed buildings with virtual visitor centers and put all wilderness permits online. Park rangers can answer phone calls and emails during regular business hours.

— Bethany Rodgers

5:04 p.m. Summit County’s high infection rate likely due to tourists

As cases of COVID-19 climb across the state, there is one area that has been particularly hard hit. Summit County is currently reporting 73 confirmed cases in a county of just 40,500 people, an infection rate that is 4½ times the next closest county, neighboring Wasatch — which has a dozen cases — and 18 times that of Salt Lake County, which has 112, but a much larger population.

The reason appears to be the number of tourists who come to ski. Derek Siddoway, spokesman for the Summit County Health Department, said in the first week of the outbreak, about half of the diagnosed cases were among visitors from outside the state — some of them from other states, some of them from other countries. There are also those in the county who had traveled elsewhere. The number of cases is expected to rise. When there were only 25 confirmed cases in the county, the director of the county health department, Richard Bullough, estimated that there were actually 10 times that may cases in the county.

Those cases and others who have contracted the disease sense will start showing up as testing expands. Siddoway said the county believes “we’ll see case numbers rise exponentially.”

“We’re advising residents that they should be acting as if they’ve already come into contact with the virus,” he said.

— Robert Gehrke

4:19 p.m.: All public K-12 schools will now be dismissed until May 1

In an announcement Monday, Gov. Gary Herbert said extending the time that students are out of school is crucial to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Originally, schools were dismissed for two weeks — with the reevaluation of that set for this Friday. Now, they’ll determine at the start of May about whether to reconvene in-person to finish out the academic year.

“We recognize that being away from school creates additional work and stress for everyone in our communities,” added State Superintendent Sydnee Dickson. “However, it is a necessary step in stopping the spread of COVID-19.”

Additionally, the state’s technical college will stop instruction and coursework beginning next week until May 1 — because the bulk of the classes require face-to-face instruction.

— Courtney Tanner

3:54 p.m.: Summit County says gatherings can’t be more than 10 people, announce other restrictions

The Summit County Health Department is ordering a ban on any gatherings of more than 10 people, and putting new restrictions on construction sites, hair and nail salons, and tanning salons.

The order, issued Monday, expands on a similar one given last week that closed in-house service at the county’s restaurants. The order will be reviewed in two weeks but does not expire until April 22. Violations of the new order could be punished as a class B misdemeanor, the county said.

“We are in the fight against COVID-19 for the long haul,” Rich Bullough, the Summit County health director, said in a statement. “Each proactive step we take today saves weeks and months of reactive measures down the road.”

The ban on gatherings of more than 10 people has some exemptions: Critical government services, hospitals, shelters, residential care providers, grocery stores, convenience stores, and families with more than 10 people in the household. On building sites in Summit County, the health department is requiring, among other things, not share tools, not meet in lunch areas, not share gloves or masks, and to regularly wash hands and use hand sanitizer. The traditional water cooler is also forbidden; employers are required to provide individual water bottles or tell employees to bring their own.

Hair and nail salons have to screen their clients over the phone before they can enter the business, to make sure they don’t have any symptoms of coronavirus. The lobbies and waiting areas must be closed to the public, workers must exercise sanitation and social distancing, and the establishments must work at 50% occupancy or less. The order also includes rules for physical therapists, child day care centers, and dentist’s offices.

— Sean Means

3:54 p.m.: Lawmakers ask doctors to donate protective equipment to help with shortage

Three Utah lawmakers who are also practicing physicians issued a call Monday for businesses that use personal protective equipment — like masks, gowns and gloves — to donate them to health care professionals, citing a national shortage of such supplies.

Rep. Suzanne Harrison, D-Salt Lake City, Rep. Ray Ward, R-Bountiful, and Rep. Stewart Barlow, R-Fruit Heights, called on businesses with any equipment to deliver the items to the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City.

“As a medical doctor, I know I speak for my colleagues in saying we are honored and ready to take care of you and your loved ones, but we need your help,” Harrison said in a news release Monday. “If you or your company has clean, un-used, N95 masks, please donate them. Your donation will help our health care system function and help prevent the spread of disease.”

The N95 masks can filter out virus particles and protect health care workers from exposure to the coronavirus, the news release states. Those and other equipment the lawmakers are asking for are also used by businesses in manufacturing, construction, oil and gas, industrial clean up and other industries.

Businesses can deliver items to The Salt Palace Convention Center: 100 S. West Temple in Salt Lake City. Collection hours are between 8 a.m. to 8 p.m starting Tuesday, March 24.

— Taylor Stevens

3:37 p.m.: City officials tell families to stay in cars when picking up LDS missionaries

Latter-day Saint families should remain in their cars while picking up returning missionaries at the Salt Lake City International Airport to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, according to city officials.

“We know how important it is to reunite with a family member during this time but we have to adhere to mass gathering standards, which are in place to protect us,” Mendenhall said in a prepared statement. “Lives are on the line and every precaution must be taken to help stop the spread of this dangerous illness.”

Families picking up missionaries are instructed to park in the second level of the airport’s short-term parking garage and stay inside their cars. Only one car is allowed per missionary. Airport staff will guide missionaries to the parking area where their loved ones are waiting, and security will make sure people follow the rules, according to the guidelines.

“These guidelines are common-sense measures that reflect what we have previously directed families to do,” said Eric Hawkins, spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which coordinated with the city and airport officials in developing the guidelines.

— Bethany Rodgers

2:55 p.m.: Utah State University reschedules graduation

After canceling its graduation ceremony for this spring, Utah State University announced Monday that it will hold a celebration after all — in August.

The school had been only public college in the state to outright upend plans for a ceremony in light of the coronavirus pandemic. The rest postponed their celebrations and now USU is following suit.

USU tweeted Monday that students should save the date for an in-person graduation on August 28 and 29.

— Courtney Tanner

2:35 p.m.: Utah gets permission to stop year-end testing for grades three through eight

The U.S. Department of Education has approved Utah’s waiver to suspend year-end testing.

“Students need to be focused on staying healthy and continuing to learn,” said Department Secretary Betsy DeVos in a statement. “Teachers need to be able to focus on remote learning and other adaptations. Neither students nor teachers need to be focused on high-stakes tests during this difficult time.”

At least 36 states have requested the standardized assessments be canceled. The Utah Board of Education put in its formal petition Thursday, saying it was “the responsible way” forward as schools remain closed for now.

The exams typically take place between mid-March and May. They are required by federal law in grades three through eight (as well as at least once in high school).

Utah will still need an exemption from the state Legislature because the scores from the tests are used as the basis for annual schools grades here.

— Courtney Tanner

2:30 p.m.: Watch out for coronavirus scams

While you’re stuck at home be on the lookout for fraud schemes aiming to cash in on the pandemic.

John W. Huber, the U.S. attorney for Utah, put out that warning Monday, part of a nationwide effort by the Department of Justice to put the investigation and prosecution of coronavirus-related fraud front and center.

“Fraudsters are always looking for a new way to make money and exploit the fears of those who are at risk,” Huber said in a statement. “They will start touting miracle cures for COVID-19 and ask for money to support fraudulent causes or cures. Those who get involved in these fraud scenes are no different than the snake oil salesmen of the past.”

Seniors, Huber said, are particularly vulnerable to such scams.

Huber is pointing people to the National Center for Disaster Fraud’s hotline, at 866-720-5721, or emailing NCDF at disaster@leo.gov. People can go to the Department of Justice’s website, www.justice.gov/coronavirus, for information.

Examples of the kind of “snake oil” schemes floating around are:

• Selling fake cures.

• “Phishing” emails from people and businesses posing as the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

• Websites and apps that appear to share coronavirus-related information, then gain access to the owner’s devices — locking them out until they pay ransom.

• Solicitations for donations to fake or nonexistent charities.

• Medical providers getting patient information for COVID-19 testing, then using that information to bill the patient fraudulently for other tests and procedures.

— Sean Means

2:30 p.m.: Feds make move to push off evictions

Some owners of apartment complexes and other multifamily residential properties in Utah are now being offered relief on their mortgage payments if they agree to temporarily suspend all evictions.

The announcement Monday from the Federal Housing Finance Agency — backer of mortgages issued by government lenders Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.

“Renters should not have to worry about being evicted from their home, and property owners should not have to worry about losing their building, due to the coronavirus,” FHFA Director Mark Calabria said in a statement.

Calabria said the combination of mortgage forbearance for owners and eviction suspension for tenants “should bring peace of mind to millions of families during this uncertain and difficult time.”

Owners can enjoy the forbearance as long as they continue to forestall evictions, Calabria said. FHHA was working with a host of mortgage servicing companies to get the relief in place immediately, he said.

FHFA has also suspended foreclosures and evictions for borrowers with the mortgages on single-family homes across the country for at least 60 days. Fannie Mae and Freedie Mac make up a substantial share of property mortgages in Utah.

— Tony Semerad

2 p.m.: Free pet food giveaway for those who have been laid off

An animal rescue organization will give free cat and dog food to pet owners who have lost employment due to the coronavirus.

Nuzzles & Co. will distribute from 1 to 4 p.m. Tuesday in the east parking lot of the Target store at 1100 S. 300 West in Salt Lake City.

Dog or cat owners who have lost a job or had their hours reduced can receive a three-week supply of pet food and cat litter. The organization also will accept donations of supplies at the same time and place. Nuzzles and Co., which is based in Summit County, asks anyone who attends Wednesday to practice social distancing.

— Nate Carlisle

1:50 p.m.: BYU gives students pass/fail option

After grades are released at the end of the semester, Brigham Young University will allow students to choose if they’d rather be given a pass/fail for each course.

The decision came Monday after many students had spoken out on social media, calling for more flexibility as classes have moved online during the coronavirus pandemic. The move means that rather than get a letter grade, students can opt instead to get general credit if they do enough work to pass — i.e. the equivalent of a A, B or C grade.

Pass/fail grades will not impact a student’s GPA for this semester only, noted BYU an email to campus.

“We understand that there will be many additional questions about this decision.” the Provo school’s Academic Vice President C. Shane Reese wrote. “We hope this provides you good options and that it helps reduce some of the stress you may be feeling.”

Additionally, the date to withdraw from classes has been extended until Tuesday.

— Courtney Tanner

1:03 p.m.: COVID-19 hitting young and old equally, state official says

The coronavirus is not discriminating by age in Utah, state epidemiologist Angela Dunn said Monday.

People 25-to-65 in the state are as likely to catch the virus as elderly people, Dunn said at Monday’s daily briefing by the Utah Department of Health.

“All adults are susceptible to COVID-19,” she said. Older people, though, are more likely to become hospitalized because of the virus.

About 10 percent of the cases of COVID-19 in Utah — which hit 257 on Monday — are hospitalized, Dunn said.

Dunn noted that Sunday night’s mass welcoming of Latter-day Saint missionaries at the Salt Lake City International Airport was regrettable, but the state is not contemplating harsher measures to avoid such gatherings in the future.

“Those are the type of gatherings that need to be avoided because of the pandemic,” she said. “That will cause the spread of COVID-19. … Those social distancing measures have to be a way of life for the next several months.”

So far, there have been no discussion in Utah to lockdown people’s movements, beyond the current recommendations against groups of more than 10, Dunn said. That includes closures of schools, bars and restaurants.

The state has been able to increase its capacity for testing for coronavirus. She cited the University of Utah Health announcement Monday that it would be able to conduct up to 1,500 tests a day in a drive-thru system.

“There’s always going to be the unknown, of whether we can get the reagents and the supplies to conduct the tests,” Dunn said.

“We don’t have a current shortage of PPE [personal protection equipment], but we are anticipating one,” she said, adding that they’re not encouraging people to make their own masks at this point.

— Sean P. Means

1:00 p.m.: State’s count of COVID-19 cases is at 257

The number of coronavirus cases in Utah is 257, the Utah Department of Health reported Monday, up from 181 on Sunday — and Salt Lake County has crossed over the century mark.

Salt Lake County reports 112 cases, up from 84 on Sunday.

There were 73 cases in Summit County on Monday, up from 50 on Sunday.

Utah County reported 12 cases on Monday, up from seven on Sunday.

The Southwest Utah Health Department reports five cases on Monday, up from one on Sunday.

The Weber/Morgan Health Department has eight cases as of Monday, up from six on Sunday.

The department says 5,048 people have been tested statewide.

— Sean P. Means

11:30 a.m.: University of Utah expands testing, hopes to do 1,500 each day

Coronavirus testing is now available to Utah patients with symptoms, regardless of whether they’ve had contact with a confirmed patient, University of Utah Health and ARUP Laboratories announced on Monday.

“As of today, ARUP laboratories can do 1,500 tests for coronavirus each day,” said Michael Good, CEO of U. Health. “[The lab] anticipates a capacity of more than 3,000 as long as sufficient supplies remain available.”

Patients should call the U. coronavirus hotline at 801-587-0712 before visiting one of four drive-up sites: Farmington Health Center, South Jordan Health Center, Sugar House Health Center and Redwood Health Center.

U. Health and Intermountain Healthcare hope to fully launch a fifth testing station later this week in Park City, where an outbreak of COVID-19 has affected a large number of residents and visitors, said Richard Orlandi, University Health’s chief medical officer for ambulatory health.

Anyone with a cough, shortness of breath or a fever may be eligible for a test following a brief, in-car exam from a doctor, physician’s assistant or nurse-practitioner — though patients with severe symptoms have priority and a provider may deny a test in mild cases, said Kim Hanson, section chief for clinical microbiology at ARUP Laboratories.

“There will be some clinical judgment used at the time,” Hansen said.

Test results should be available within 24 hours for patients who require hospital care or who themselves are health care workers, Hansen said. Results are expected to within 48 hours for other patients.

“By identifying more individuals who are infected, we can more wisely deploy our isolation … measures,” Hansen said. State health officials also can do more contact tracing to identify and isolate those who have been exposed to confirmed patients, she said.

Although University Health would not disclose the cost of testing and evaluations, Orlandi said it was “working with individuals and insurers to make that maximally available.”

— Erin Alberty

11:25 a.m.: University of Utah students to vacate the dorms

The University of Utah is asking students to move out of the dorms this week if they can. Campus housing was originally going to remain open for all students, but in a new message Monday, the school said it’s trying to limit large groups according to the state’s orders.

Any students who don’t need to stay there, it says, need to move out by Friday. After that, the few remaining available dorms will be prioritized for international students, any individuals who would be homeless otherwise or those with “known health or safety risks,” according to the U.’s notice.

Residents who do leave will receive a prorated refund for the remainder of the semester.

— Courtney Tanner

10 a.m.: Utah releases videos to help people deal with economic disruptions

Officials with Utah’s Coronavirus Community Task Force and the Salt Lake Chamber have released two short videos offering help and advice for residents dealing with economic distress.

For businesses owners hit by the crisis, the minute-long video may be the best place to start. It gives a quick overview of a growing array of government relief programs.

Residents interested in helping Utah retailers survive should watch the 40-second video for strategies. It has advice on dine-in options for closed restaurants and gift card purchases.

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Both videos refer users to coronavirus.utah.gov/business, which has emerged as the state’s main clearinghouse for COVID-19-related information.

— Tony Semerad

9:30 a.m.: Officials say Worker Comp payments will go out early to Utah companies

Hoping to provide some financial relief to Utah employers, top leaders with Workers Compensation Fund Insurance have moved up the date for paying their annual policy dividend.

WCF Insurance’s Mutual Insurance Company will be issuing $20 million in dividends to nearly 20,000 Utah employers and policyholders on March 30, officials said.

“We’re paying dividends early this year to help relieve pressure from the financial disturbance of COVID-19,” Ray Pickup, CEO and president, said in a statement.

Typically, those checks wouldn’t be sent out until the third week of May, but the $20 million dividend has been expedited by the Utah Insurance Department. Employers should expect to receive about 10% their 2019 earned workers compensation premium.

The Workers Compensation Fund provides no-fault insurance coverage for Utah employees who might be injured on the job, and virtually all state employers are require to pay into it, making them the fund’s owners.

The fund has paid out a total of more than $472 million over the years to policyholders.

In hopes of providing further relief during the COVID-19 crisis, WCF Insurance is also offering new flexible payment plans. To learn more, call (385) 351-8000.

— Tony Semerad

8:05 a.m.: Utah leaders are “disappointed” in the hundreds who welcomed home LDS missionaries at the airport

Utah’s governor and lieutenant governor admonished families of returning missionaries that large welcome crowds, as seen Sunday at the Salt Lake City International Airport, are “dangerous,” just part of a wave of social media reaction to the big celebratory scene in the airport parking garage.

“Really disappointed in the behavior we saw from missionary families at the SLC airport tonight,” Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox tweeted Sunday night after the return of more than 1,600 missionaries from the Philippines. Families crowded in the airport parking garage with signs and balloons, despite health officials’ instructions to avoid crowds of more than 10 people.

“I get it, I’ve been there (and still have a child serving), but this is unacceptable. In a time of shared sacrifice, we must do better to save lives. #SocialDistancing,” Cox tweeted.

Footage and images of cheering crowds at the airport prompted dismay from many Utahns on social media, who worried such gatherings nullified their social distancing efforts. And it ran afoul of the following guidance the church gave to stake presidents, regional lay leaders, to pass along to parents before their missionaries returned:

SLC Airport Protocol (MUST BE ADHERED TO EXACTLY):

“For those missionaries arriving into SLC who are not traveling onto another destination, parents should follow this SLC Airport protocol. When you come to the airport, please park on the second level of the short-term parking garage. Missionaries disembarking from the planes will be directed through the terminals by airport staff to the second level of the short-term parking garage. (Do not drive to the pickup area on the ground level.) Due to space constraints, only one vehicle is permitted for picking up each missionary. For the safety of your missionary, your family, and other travelers at the airport, please remain in your car until your missionary comes to your vehicle in the short-term parking garage.”

Again after the church-chartered flights arrived and images of the welcome party began to circulate online, church officials issued a statement urging parents to go to the airport alone to pick up missionaries.

Airport spokeswoman Nancy Volmer said that when the church chartered five large flights from the Philippines, airport officials had asked Delta Air Lines and the church to arrange for pickup restrictions in advance.

“We had asked that people are limited to two people per missionary,” Volmer said, “and to stay by their cars until the missionary came.”

Rumors that airport staffers were directing missionary families to congregate are untrue, Volmer said.

“The church had sent out about two dozen volunteers to help with directing people and keeping them in the garage,” Volmer said.

Gov. Gary Herbert tweeted that missionaries “should not be met by big groups of family or friends.”

“Large welcome parties are dangerous and could greatly increase the spread of coronavirus in our state,” Herbert wrote. “Parents, please go to the airport alone to pick up your returning missionaries, and help them strictly follow all self-isolation procedures for their first 14 days at home.”

Sen. Mitt Romney also called the gathering “irresponsible.”

The scoldings from state officials were met with some pushback.

“Do something about it. You & Guv are willing to force restaurants (like me!) into bankruptcy but won’t take meaningful action to stop this behavior,” state Sen. Derek Kitchen wrote in response to Cox’s tweet. “At current rate we can expect ~60k+ deaths in Utah. Disappointed? Yea me too.”

More missionaries are expected to return to Utah in the coming days.

— Erin Alberty

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