Live coronavirus updates for Tuesday, March 17: Spencer Cox sets record straight on coronavirus ‘crazy rumors’

(NIAID-RML via AP) An electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. Also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus causes COVID-19.

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It’s Tuesday, March 17. We’ll provide the latest coronavirus updates involving Utah throughout the day.

Read complete coronavirus coverage here.


10:37 p.m.: Cox dispels misinformation amid outbreak

Lt. Gov. Spencer J. Cox sought late Tuesday to debunk what he called “crazy rumors” amid Utah’s part of the worldwide coronavirus scare in recent days:

  • No, Gov. Gary Herbert isn’t getting ready to shut down highways or interstates.

  • No, too, on any plans for gasoline rationing. (Gas is at a price low in fact, Cox noted.)

  • And no, he said, there are no statewide isolation orders being contemplated.

“As challenging as this is for all of us, we make it more challenging when we share things that just aren’t true,” Cox said in a casual online chat from his Fairview home.

— Tony Semerad

6:10 p.m.: Governor shuts down dining in statewide

The state has ordered all restaurants to stop dine-in service for at least the next two weeks.

The order coming down Tuesday evening includes bars too. It takes effect Wednesday at midnight.

Food can be picked up or delivered.

“With the increasing number of COVID-19 cases in our communities, we must take quick action to adjust our daily lives and limit the spread of the virus,” Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said. “We have not made this decision lightly. I know this will disrupt lives and cost jobs, and for that I’m very sorry. Still, I’m convinced this will save many lives, and I’m also convinced that Utahns will step up to help each other and we’ll get through this together.”

Cash payments are “strongly discouraged” and if cash is accepted, employees must clean between each transaction. Services like DoorDash and UberEats are allowed.

Herbert urged people to still buy local, just within these guidelines. The order was signed by Joseph Miner, executive director of the Utah Department of Health.

Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox said that the state is still seeking to build its testing capacity that may reduce the need for such broad restrictions.

“Until we have the ability to test widely and institute targeted isolation procedures, we must take every necessary precaution to limit the spread of the virus,” Cox said. “These preventative measures will help reduce the burden on our medical system, and save lives.”

— Matt Canham

5 p.m.: Utah lawmakers may need to provide help to businesses and the unemployed

Utah Senate President Stuart Adams says the Legislature might have to convene a special session to assist businesses and Utahns experiencing unemployment because of the coronavirus pandemic.

But he’s hopeful that won’t be necessary and that Utah’s businesses and customers will find innovative ways of keeping the economy going.

“The No. 1 issue is to try to save lives,” the Layton Republican said Tuesday. “I think we have to continue to live our lives, but we have to change the way we interact. I think we can do it in a positive way.”

Adams said continuing to patronize businesses will “do much more than any subsidy we can give as a state.”

Still, the state has already seen an uptick in new unemployment claims, Adams acknowledged, and the Legislature might have to step in to provide some assistance if the economy sinks too far.

In that scenario, lawmakers would have to reopen the budget they approved earlier this month and divert funding from other priorities, such as social services, he said.

“We have limited resources, and the solution to this is always to keep the economy going,” he said.

Any special session for an emergency economic aid package would have to happen before July 1, the beginning of the next budget cycle, according to Adams.

— Bethany Rodgers

4:50 p.m.: Utah bakery to give out free bread daily

Longtime area bakery Schmidt’s Pastry Cottage will offer free loaves of freshly baked bread starting Wednesday at its Sugar House, Taylorville and South Jordan locations.

Interested customers who turn up at the stores starting at 10 a.m. will get two loaves of French bread apiece, one for them to share with family and another to give away “to somebody else who might benefit,” the family-owned firm wrote on Twitter.

“We are a community and we need to take care of one another,” the owners wrote.

Shop manager Jenny Borg told The Tribune the small chain will start Wednesday morning with 200 loaves. The move was intended, she said, to give back to customers amid the COVID-19 outbreak — but also to keep bakery workers busy during a lull in regular business.

“We’re hoping to spread some comfort and pay it forward,” said Borg, an in-law of longtime store owners Steve and Lucy Borg, adding that the giveaways will continue daily “for as long as we can.”

The chain’s website also noted that bakery staff continue to follow best practices on food preparation recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including frequent cleaning of all kitchen surfaces, counters, display cases, door handles and restrooms to keep customers safe.

Schmidt’s Pastry Cottage has outlets at 606 E. 2100 South in Sugar House; 5664 S. Redwood Road in Taylorsville; and 1133 W. South Jordan Parkway in South Jordan. For more information, visit schmidtspastry.net.

— Tony Semerad

4:45 p.m.: Westminster postpones its graduation

Westminster College in Salt Lake City has postponed its graduation ceremonies. In an announcement Tuesday, the private liberal arts school said it would postpone all events scheduled through at least May 12.

That includes its commencement, which was set for May 9 at the Maverik Center.

The college wrote in a note to students: “While there are currently no COVID-19 cases at Westminster, we are increasingly concerned about the ways our families, friends, and loved ones may be affected.”

— Courtney Tanner

3:30 p.m.: Salt Lake County has 17 beds for homeless who need to be isolated

During a briefing at a Salt Lake County Council meeting Tuesday, Mayor Jenny Wilson said the county has secured 17 beds in two locations to house people experiencing homelessness and other vulnerable populations who can’t self quarantine.

There are already two people who are receiving care in those facilities, which the county has not released the locations of out of privacy concerns.

One building will be explicitly for the unsheltered, while the second will remain an option for unsheltered people if needed but will also be available for other situations, Salt Lake County Health Department spokesman Nicholas Rupp told The Salt Lake Tribune last week. Both will be county operated.

While many experts say people experiencing homelessness are more susceptible to the coronavirus, Wilson noted that Seattle hasn’t seen a surge in cases among that population.

“That’s really good news,” she said, adding that “we anticipate at this moment in time that we won’t see additional higher numbers” in Utah either.

— Taylor Stevens

2:30 p.m.: Here’s where the state’s emergency fund are going

Utah leaders have $24 million in state funding at their command as they seek to battle the coronavirus pandemic. That total includes:

  • $16 million that the Utah Division of Finance can put toward supplies and other needs.

  • $4 million from the state’s disaster recovery account.

  • $2 million so local health departments can create response programs for seniors.

  • $250,000 for Meals on Wheels.

  • $250,000 for the Utah Food Bank’s Food Box Program, which provides boxed meals to seniors.

  • $250,000 for home medical testing services.

  • $250,000 in home supportive services for vulnerable populations.

Utah lawmakers set aside the funding before adjourning from their legislative session last week. The state’s finance division will oversee the disbursement of the money, in consultation with the coronavirus task force and the governor’s office, according to a Utah Senate spokeswoman.

The state will also have access to $6.5 million in federal funding for its coronavirus response.

— Bethany Rodgers

2:20 p.m.: Millcreek helps business signal they are open

Millcreek City announced Tuesday that it would take several measures to help the city’s 3,500 businesses, which may be struggling as residents practice social distancing.

The city has waived part of its sign ordinance so businesses needing to pivot to increased drive-thru, pick-up and take out options can signal to the public that they are open.

The city said it would also help publicize special business deals or promotions happening during the emergency, offering licensed businesses free advertising in the city’s weekly newsletter, which goes out to 5,000 people and on the city’s social media channels.

— Taylor Stevens

2:10 p.m.: Smith’s to open early for senior citizens

Smith’s Food & Drug announced Tuesday that it will allow senior citizens exclusive shopping access to its stores between 7 and 8 a.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, beginning Wednesday.

Staff will be available at each store to help those who need special accommodations.

For all other customers, temporary store hours will continue to be 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

In addition, Smith’s is evaluating its pharmacy hours to open earlier for seniors.

“Smith’s wants to provide these at-risk customers with the ability to purchase the items they need to avoid busier and more crowded shopping times,” said Aubriana Martindale, Smith’s corporate affairs manager. “We request that customers respect these hours for the health of our community during this time of uncertainty. We appreciate all of our customers for their kind consideration, whose concern contributed to our decision to provide allocated hours for seniors.”

Smith’s also is waiving the pickup fee for online orders received curbside for customers whose verified age is 60 years and older through April 18.

— Kathy Stephenson

1:40 p.m.: Moab closes its doors to visitors, but the parks stay open

Moab officials are urging travelers to stay away from their town, usually an overrun magnet for outdoor recreation this time of year, while local health officers on Tuesday issued sweeping orders to limit services in the hopes of curbing the spread of the coronavirus.

The Southeast Utah Health Department closed theaters, gyms, music venues, any business where people would gather over its entire service area covering Grand, Carbon and Emery counties.

Utah just reported its 51st confirmed case of COVID-19, while the state’s southeastern counties have yet to report any. But Bradon Bradford, the health department’s director, fears that could change soon because at least 5,500 tourists are expected to be in Moab on any given day as the spring travel season ramps up.

On Tuesday, he imposed severe new limits on tourist accommodations, putting an end to table service at restaurants and closing hotels to nonlocals in Emery, Carbon and Grand counties. The restriction applies to all overnight accommodations, including town homes and RV parks.

“Effective tonight we are restricting the check-in of new guests in all three counties to only those that can demonstrate that they are working in our counties and their dependents and spouses,” Bradford said Tuesday in a Facebook video post. “We feel like if we don’t take action now, our residents will suffer, our health care will suffer. It is not built to handle the number of people that could potentially hit in a wave of sickness all at once.”

Restaurants are now limited to takeout, curbside service only and convenient stores may serve only one customer at a time.

“Moab is asking people to please stay in their home community,” Mayor Emily Niehaus said. “This is an urgent message to people considering travel to Moab.”

The two nearby national parks, Arches and Canyonlands, remained open Tuesday, but modest limits on visitor services were put in place to limit contact between staff and the public. The parks’ visitor centers were closed Tuesday, but staff would be available on the centers’ patios to answer visitors’ questions and assist with trip planning, according to the parks’ spokeswoman, Karen Garthwait.

The hotel closure order had not yet extended to San Juan County as of Tuesday, and public health officials said there were currently no plans to implement lodging restrictions in the southeastern Utah county.

— Brian Maffly and Zak Podmore

1:38 p.m.: Deseret Industries stores to close, for shoppers and donors

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced it was closing all Deseret Industries stores to the public — both for shoppers and those looking to donate.

The thrift stores will close after the end of the day Tuesday, but will still be open for people ordered to go there by a bishop, who oversees local Latter-day Saint congregations, or who have community partner grants, the church said in a news release.

Employees in “low-risk demographics” may be given work elsewhere, such as at bishops’ storehouses or for food-processing operations.

— Paighten Harkins

1:33 p.m.: Activists call for a ban on evictions and foreclosures

The Utah Housing Coalition issued a called Tuesday for Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and the Utah Coronavirus Taskforce to explore a statewide moratorium on evictions and foreclosures.

In a statement, the Housing Coalition said that housing stability is “crucial in a public emergency in which containment and treatment rely on individuals staying indoors and not being forced to seek shelter or experience homelessness.”

Reductions in working hours, wages or travel restrictions as a result of the virus “pose a hardship to Utahns who already struggle to make rent or mortgage payments,” the statement continued.

Elected leaders in some other states have already taken action to stop evictions, but Herbert told reporters Monday that a decision here was yet to be determined.

During a briefing on the coronavirus outbreak at a Salt Lake County meeting Tuesday, Mayor Jenny Wilson said she was interested in looking at evictions and ways to help “the population of people who were laid off yesterday.”

She said she expected movement on that front by the end of the week.

Salt Lake County Councilwoman Shireen Ghorbani noted that eviction regulation comes down to the state.

“But I think we as a council could call on our state government to take additional steps to make sure those who are in that space are not evicted during that time,” she said, getting emotional as she worried for those who may make rent this month but struggle in the coming months.

— Taylor Stevens

1:27 p.m.: Bear River area has its first coronavirus case

The Bear River region has its first case of coronavirus — an adult under 60 — state epidemiologist Angela Dunn reported at the Utah Department of Health’s daily briefing.

That is one of 10 new cases reported since last night. The current tally is 51 cases statewide; 41 residents and 10 nonresidents.

Four of the new cases are from Salt Lake County. Two are from Summit County, one is from Wasatch County and two are from the Weber-Morgan Health District.

The Bear River Health Department reports that the patient there is hospitalized, and the patient’s family has been asked to self-quarantine for 14 days. Health officials believe the patient was exposed to someone in Salt Lake County, whose illness was already known to officials.

The rising figure “gives us an understanding of where the spread is more rampant,” Dunn said — even though it’s considered an undercount, because many people are not being tested because of continued shortages in test materials and protective gear.

Dunn said she understands the frustration patients feel because of the shortage of tests. Health officials must, she said, ration those tests to people in high-risk groups and health care providers. “There’s not a win in that situation. It’s just what we have to do,” she said.

There has been a steady increase of cases in Utah, and “we haven’t seen” exponential rises in cases, Dunn said — though the state is preparing in case that does happen. “We’re doing everything we know is right,” she said. “It’s always better to be prepared for the worst-case scenario.”

Models conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that without social distancing and other preventive measures, as much as 50% of the country could contract COVID-19, Dunn said. That’s why UDOH and health officials everywhere are stressing such measures as social distancing, hand hygiene and staying at home.

UDOH officials are in contact with their counterparts in states that had outbreaks earlier, Dunn said. “We’re learning from our colleagues in Washington, California and New York about what didn’t work there,” she said.

— Sean P. Means

12:53 p.m.: Utah now has 51 coronavirus cases

The state of Utah now has 51 documented cases of coronavirus, according to new figures released by the Utah Department of Health.

The afternoon update reports 41 residents and 10 nonresidents have tested positive for COVID-19.

— Sean P. Means

12:30 p.m.: LDS Church removes missionaries from the Philippines

Nonnative missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints assigned to the Philippines will be moved out of the country, church leaders announced Tuesday.

The church cited a new travel directive from the Philippine government, and “a general disruption to their ability to carry out their service.”

CNN reported that half of the Philippines is being put under an “enhanced community quarantine,” affecting some 50 million people in the Pacific Rim nation. That includes the country’s biggest and most populous island, Luzon, including the capital, Manila.

Those missionaries will be sent back to their home countries for new temporary assignments. That’s after a precautionary 14-day self-isolation period, the church said in a news release.

— Sean P. Means

10:50 a.m.: Two Ballet West dancers have the virus

Two dancers for Utah’s Ballet West tested positive for COVID-19, the troupe confirmed Tuesday.

According to a statement from Ballet West, the dancers had recently returned to Utah from an extended trip to the East Coast that began March 1.

“The two dancers who tested positive had not returned to the Ballet West campus, and had not had any contact with other coworkers or students,” Michael Scolamiero, Ballet West’s executive director, said in a statement.

The dancers, whom the troupe did not identify, are under self-quarantine. Ballet West will not release more information, citing privacy concerns.

On Monday, Ballet West announced it is postponing an upcoming production. “Bolero & The Dream,” which was originally scheduled for April 17-25, is now scheduled for June 18-21.

The group’s Choreographic Festival is still slated for May 14-16, but visiting companies Singapore Dance Theater and Royal New Zealand Ballet will no longer be part of the program. Ballet West ticket holders will be contacted by patron services in the coming week.

The Ballet West Academy, which had planned to remain open, has closed all campuses until March 30.

— Sean P. Means

10:15 a.m.: Virtual tuition meetings to be held by Utah’s public colleges

Utah’s public colleges and universities will hold their annual tuition hearings online this year. The meetings, held by each school in March, are for students to weigh in on proposed tuition increase.

In order to avoid large gatherings and reduce the spread of the coronavirus, those will be done virtually — though the colleges are individually finding ways for students to still submit feedback.

At the University of Utah, for instance, the proposed increase is 2% or roughly $83 per semester. Students and staff are encouraged to send their thoughts on it to svpaa@utah.edu by Thursday.

— Courtney Tanner

9:15 a.m.: Utah is 15th among states for its response to the coronavirus

How is Utah doing in its battle with the coronavirus? Better than most of its intermountain neighbors, according to a new study.

Utah ranked 15th among states in how aggressively it is acting to fight the spread of coronavirus, says a study released Tuesday by the credit-monitoring service WalletHub.

Weighing 35 factors, from life expectancy to how many tests for COVID-19 each state has performed, the study measures in three main areas:

• Prevention and containment, which takes in everything from COVID-19 testing to which states have closed schools and businesses. Utah ranked 24th.

• Risk factors and infrastructure, which measures life expectancy, poverty rates, food insecurity, public health care spending per capita, and other factors. Utah ranked 4th.

• Economic impact, including what percentage of the population works in jobs heavily affected by closures (such as food services and the arts), and how many work in small businesses. Utah ranked 15th.

Rhode Island ranked No. 1 in the study which included all states and the District of Columbia, with Connecticut, Maryland, New York and Washington completing the top five.

Utah’s neighbor Wyoming came in dead last, in 51st place. Next to the bottom were Mississippi, Texas, Nevada and Oklahoma. Colorado, to the east of Utah, ranked 35th. Idaho, to the north, came in 38th. Arizona, to the south, was 29th.

— Sean P. Means

8:50 a.m.: Utah’s federal court to delay all trials

U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby ordered Monday that all civil and criminal trials in federal court be delayed, though noted that those already underway will continue.

All grand jury proceedings were also canceled, and the deadline for filing an indictment was pushed until the courts were running again.

The presiding judge also ruled that all scheduled hearings — including motions hearings, change of plea hearings and sentencing — would be delayed. A judge can proceed with a hearing, though, if it can be done by telephone or video conference.

Shelby added that judges presiding over criminal proceedings should take appropriate action to “ensure the fairness of the proceedings and preserve the rights of the parties — particularly where defendants are detained pending trial."

”The court finds that the ends of justice served by ordering continuances of all grand jury proceedings and criminal jury trials outweigh each defendant’s right to and the public’s interest in speedy indictment and trial," the order reads.

The federal courthouse will remain open, but the public and attorneys are encouraged to only go there for critical court-related activities that can’t be done electronically.

— Jessica Miller

8:51 a.m.: Nordstrom closes all its stores

Nordstrom has closed all 360 of its locations for two weeks, including its stores in Utah. The closures, which went into effect on Tuesday, affect both the chain’s department stores and its Nordstrom Rack locations.

In Utah, Nordstrom has stores in Salt Lake City and Murray, and Nordstrom Racks in Sugar House, Sandy, Farmington and Orem.

Nordstrom’s online sales will continue to operate.

— Scott D. Pierce

8:30 a.m.: Regal Cinemas closes

Regal Cinemas has closed all of its movie theaters nationwide — including its sole Utah location at 5516 S. Redwood Road in Taylorsville — until further notice.

The country’s second-largest movie chain released a statement: “It’s our goal to provide a safe and healthy environment for our employees and guests,” We value your patronage and have no doubt we will be serving you again as soon as possible with a full slate of Hollywood blockbusters.”

— Sean Means

8:25 a.m. St. George closes municipal buildings, attractions

St. George temporarily closed a number of its municipal buildings and attractions on Tuesday morning.

They include: City Hall, the city Commons building, the St. George Recreation Center, Sand Hollow Aquatic Center, the St. George Art Museum, Thunder Junction train and the downtown carousel.

City council and planning commission meetings are canceled for at least the next two months.

8:10 a.m.: Thanksgiving Point suspends operations

Thanksgiving Point on Monday temporarily closed its attractions and venues.

Those include the Butterfly Biosphere, Museum of Ancient Life, Museum of Natural Curiosity, and Farm Country, as well as Harvest Restaurant and the Tower Deli at the Water Tower Plaza. Ashton Garden already was closed for the winter season.

— Erin Alberty