Live coronavirus updates for Thursday, March 19: Utah’s confirms 78 cases

(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer) Philip Chaffee, senior director emergency management stands in a negative pressure tent outside the University of Utah's hospital, Monday, March 9, 2020, in Salt Lake City. The hospital is taking steps to limit the spread of the new coronavirus, including new visitor policies and the construction of outdoor negative pressure tents where people can be tested without having to go inside the hospital building.

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It’s Thursday, March 19. The number of lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases in Utah has risen to 78 as of today — 15 more than the day before — the Utah Department of Health reported. We’ll provide the latest coronavirus updates involving Utah throughout the day.

[Read complete coronavirus coverage here.]

8:37 p.m.: Property management companies ask that renters be allowed to defer April’s rent

The Utah Apartment Association and many rental property management companies are asking for qualified renters to be allowed to defer April’s rent because of the coronavirus.

The deferment option would be available to renters who could prove they lost money because of the pandemic, either because they were exposed and quarantined or lost hours or wages because their job was closed for public health.

“These financial hardships have a brutal and immediate impact on many renters that rely on regular wages to meet their financial obligations including rent, utilities, food and transportation needs,” according to the Utah Apartment Association news release.

The release was signed by 30 groups, not including the apartment association. Most of the signees were property management companies, like Avenue 5 Residential, Wasatch Property Management and Maxx Property Management.

For more information, visit uaahq.org.

— Paighten Harkins

5:33 p.m.: District Court postpones hearings, trials

Utah’s Third District Court has postponed all criminal calendars, hearings and trials set for the next 14 days. The standing order from Presiding Judge Mark S. Kouris arrived Thursday evening, following the Salt Lake County public health order banning gatherings of more than 10 people. Jail and prison transports for inmates going through court proceedings from now until April 3 have been canceled, and no attorneys will be at the courthouse, according to the order.

It also stated that all out-of-custody defendants will be assigned a new hearing date that is two to three months away.

— Paighten Harkins

5:17 p.m.: Salt Lake County restricts size of gatherings, then governor weighs in

Salt Lake County officials on Thursday issued an order banning gatherings of more than 10 people. Ignoring the order could net violators with a misdemeanor charge.

The public health order, brought by Mayor Jenny Wilson and county health department Executive Director Gary Edwards, immediately went into effect Thursday and will be in place for 30 days.

But Gov. Gary Herbert, late Thursday, weighed in, demanding that the county rescind the order because he didn’t want people fearing they would be arrested for going to work at a job that has more than 10 people.

— Paighten Harkins

3:29 p.m.: Provo restaurant offering meal donations

La Jolla Groves in Provo is offering to donate a meal to a friend or family member with every purchase of a large meal in an effort to support customers impacted by COVID-19.

The buy-a-meal-give-a-meal deal was initially intended to help senior citizens, but now customers can choose to nominate anyone in need of a free meal for two with their purchase.

“Some people are sending it to someone who’s sick. Some people are sending it to their neighbor or their grandma or whoever they know,” said CEO Kyler Roney, noting that the goal of the promotion is to unify the community. “Everyone’s going through a crazy time and a tough time, and we’re looking for ways we can spread some joy. We know we’re not going to make any money right now and our goal is to pull the community together.”

He said La Jolla is a fine-dining, sit-down-style restaurant, so it’s not sustainable for it to only deliver takeout. It’s only doing about a tenth of its usual business. But the restaurant wants to keep their employees for as long as possible. La Jolla also hopes the deal will support those who are self-quarantining. “We know there’s a lot of people who aren’t leaving their houses,” Roney said, “and so whatever we can do to take care of those people, take care of our community, that’s what we’re doing right now.”

— Zoi Walker

1:45 p.m.: Utah’s tech leaders pledge support to fight outbreak

Company leaders in Utah’s technology sector have pledged $1.2 million to a newly created community fund aimed at relieving distress caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

Officials with the industry group Silicon Slopes said they hoped to build the new COVID19 Utah Community Response Fund to $5 million, with the hope of fueling additional financial assistance from the private sector.

Clint Betts, the nonprofit group’s executive director and a member of The Salt Lake Tribune’s board of directors, said a recent outpouring of support from top tech CEOs in the sector “has been immense” — though he added that more volunteers were needed, particularly to help with transporting medical supplies around the state and other tasks.

The new fund’s focus for now, a spokesman said, is bringing more coronavirus testing kits and medical supplies to Utah and supporting public health and education.

Silicon Slopes members also are gathering and donating vital stocks of masks, hand sanitizer, baby wipes, diapers, 800-level Tyvex Suits, goggles, and testing swabs, he said.

Mark Newman, CEO of Orem-based Nomi Health, called on Utah’s private sector and tech workers in particular to help “alleviate the strain placed on government and healthcare organizations to lessen the impact of COVID19 on our great state.”

— Tony Semerad

1:40 p.m.: Sandy will ease city regulations in face of coronavirus

Sandy Mayor Kurt Bradburn announced Thursday that the city would reduce regulations on businesses and residents to lessen the impact of the coronavirus.

The city is allowing businesses needing to advertise changes in services or hours to use banners, ballots and other signage in park strips and to take a 90-day extension on business license renewal fees.

Sandy is also suspending water shutoff for residents struggling to pay their utility bills while the city has declared a state of emergency.

“These are small efforts the city can take to help reduce the economic impact for our citizens and businesses,” Bradburn said in a news release. “I know this won’t solve every problem but it will provide a little assistance to those most affected by this national emergency.

Residents who need assistance with utility billing can call 801-568-7110.

— Taylor Stevens

1:33 p.m.: Digester offers free food disposal to restaurants

Restaurants with large quantities of prepurchased food that can no longer be sold can dispose of it in an environmentally friendly way.

Wasatch Resource Recovery, the state’s first food digester, will take the products and waive the disposal fee, said sustainability manager Morgan Bowerman.

Earlier this week, restaurants statewide were told — in the wake of the coronavirus — that they are prohibited from offering in-person dining. Takeout and delivery generally are still allowed. With the preventive measures resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, Bowerman said, “there are many in the food industry who are hard hit.”

The North Salt Lake facility is offering free food disposal for any business impacted by the closures. If you would like Wasatch Resource Recovery to dispose of your excess waste, email mbowerman@wasatchresourcerecovery.com. She will tell you how to get wasted food to the facility and disposed of for free.

The organization said waste may need to be delivered in a personal or business vehicle because the company is unable to pick up food. Bowerman said it’s better to bring waste to Wasatch Resource Recovery than to a landfill.

“If it goes to the landfill instead of coming to us, it’s going to make the same methane but that’s just going to be released into the atmosphere. And if it comes to us, we get to use it beneficially as a renewable natural gas.”

This gives residents an opportunity to be socially responsible during the viral outbreak. “Even though it’s a tough time for everybody,” Bowerman said, “it’s still worth thinking about trying to do the right thing for the earth.”

— Zoi Walker

(Jessica Brooks | Courtesy of ABC) "Modern Family" star Ty Burrell, who co-owns four restaurants and bars in Utah, is planning to launch a nonprofit to help food service workers affected by business closures because of the coronavirus outbreak.

1:29 p.m.: Actor Ty Burrell to launch effort to help food service workers

“Modern Family” star Ty Burrell is setting up a nonprofit to benefit out-of-work food-service workers and small businesses in Salt Lake City. From his home in L.A.

“I’m a small-business owner in Salt Lake, and we were looking to start a fundraising campaign for food and beverage employees who are a particularly vulnerable population,” Burrell said during an online Silicon Slopes Town Hall on Wednesday.

Burrell is best known as goofy dad Phil Dunphy on “Modern Family,” which completed production on its 11th and final season in February. The final episode is scheduled to air in April.

He is one of the owners of Bar X and the Beer Bar in Salt Lake City, the Copper Bottom Inn in Holladay and The Eating Establishment in Park City. And, while Burrell is social distancing at his home in Los Angeles, he and his wife, Holly, plan to move to Utah fulltime when they can.He’s already working to help the community.

“We reached out to Mayor [Erin] Mendenhall’s office about finding partners to match or exceed as substantial a donation as my wife and I could make.”

He didn’t specify an amount on Wednesday.Burrell is working to create a non-profit “to make this a tax-deductible donation.” And he’s hoping to benefit both out of work food service employees and other small businesses.“

This is sort of a preliminary call to action, because we don’t really have a portal to go to at the moment,” Burrell said. “But I would like to plant the seed for anybody who may be looking to put their money into something that might have an immediate affect to people displaced during this time.”He said he’s “confident we can get something set up really soon.”

— Scott D. Pierce

1:07 p.m.: ‘We are at the very beginning’ of epidemic, official says

Get comfortable with working from home and eating takeout, because the coronavirus epidemic isn’t going away soon, state epidemiologist Angela Dunn said Thursday.

“We know we are at the very beginning of this epidemic,” Dunn said at the Utah Department of Health’s daily briefing.

Because this is a new virus, it’s impossible to estimate when the pandemic will run its course, she said.

The fact that China, where the first cases were reported, has gone without new cases for a day, is a hopeful sign, she said. It shows “we can do this, and we can come out the other end of this,” she said.

China implemented severe social distancing measures, so “the person who was infected was less likely to infect more people,” she said. Utah and other states have tried to implement similar social distancing rules.

Dunn reiterated that testing has lagged because of the shortage of reagents — the chemicals used in processing the test — and protective gear that health care workers must wear to administer the test.

“Lab testing doesn’t change a person’s course of care,” Dunn said. So someone who thinks they have COVID-19 should act as if they do, whether they can get a test or not, she said. “If you are showing symptoms, you should stay home,” she added.

— Sean P. Means

12:45 p.m.: City Creek Center in downtown Salt Lake City to close

City Creek Center in downtown Salt Lake City will close indefinitely as of Friday in response to the coronavirus crisis, its managers said Thursday.

Robert S. Taubman, chairman of Taubman Centers, operator of City Creek and 17 other major shopping centers across the U.S., said the publicly traded company was ceasing operations at all but two of its facilities, after discussions with state and local officials.

“We are clearly in unprecedented times and this is right decision for our shoppers, retailers, employees and these communities,” Taubman said Thursday in a statement.

The announcement covers the 20-acre open-air shopping mall near Temple Square along with Taubman-run outlets in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Michigan, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, Tennessee and Virginia.

— Tony Semerad

12:35 p.m.: COVID-19 cases in Utah have risen to 78

The number of lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases in Utah has risen to 78 as of Thursday — 15 more than the day before — the Utah Department of Health reported.

The newest figures, posted Thursday, show 68 Utah residents have contracted the coronavirus, along with 10 nonresidents.

Seven new cases have been confirmed in Salt Lake County, raising the number to 29 residents plus two nonresidents. Four new cases are reported in Summit County, bringing that county’s tally to 19 residents and seven nonresidents.

The Bear River Health District has two more cases, for three total. Utah County and Wasatch County each have one new case.

So far, UDOH reports, at least 1,526 people have been tested for coronavirus. That doesn’t include tests done by private labs that have not reported their numbers to UDOH.

— Sean P. Means

12:35 p.m.: Utah families can grab students’ breakfast and lunch in one trip

Under a federal waiver, students and their families in Utah can now pick up both breakfast and lunch at their schools at the same time.

Previously, the requirement was that the two meals had to be separated. Additionally, any children getting SNAP benefits had to be physically present — their parents could not pick up food on their behalf.

Both have been lifted with the coronavirus restrictions in place that have closed schools across the state. State Superintendent Sydnee Dickson announced the changes during a meeting of the Utah State Board of Education on Thursday.

She also pointed to a new map on the state board’s website showing where the food pick-up sites are: https://schools.utah.gov/cnp/mealmap.

— Courtney Tanner

12:35 p.m.: Utah schools suspend standardized testing

Standardized testing has been suspended for Utah K-12 schools this spring in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak.

The Utah Board of Education voted to lift the assessment requirement Thursday with a unanimous vote. “I think this is key,” said board member Jennie Earl, who represents Morgan County. “It will help clear up some of the stress that teachers and administrators are feeling.”

With the change, the board will also have to seek a federal waiver and an exemption from the state Legislature. Already, 36 other states are doing the same.

Additionally, the board has waived the requirement that schools need to hold classes for 180 days — in light of the move to online instruction.

— Courtney Tanner

11:10 a.m.: Stewart proposes a nationwide credit-score freeze

Washington • Rep. Chris Stewart says credit scores for Americans should be frozen where they were at the beginning of March “and for the duration of this economic crisis."

In a series of tweets, the congressman said, “An impact on credit scores can have a negative long-term effect of 7 years."

Stewart, a Utah Republican, suggested the idea of freezing credit scores — ensuring that scores given to consumers on their creditworthiness remain the same no matter their actions — would cost nothing, provide stability, and “truly” make a difference for American households.

Meanwhile, Sen. Mitt Romney said Thursday that the government must strengthen the unemployment insurance programs by extending the number of weeks someone can receive the services and expanding eligibility to include furloughed workers, self-employed individuals and independent contractors.

— Thomas Burr

10:20 a.m.: Utah Shakespeare Festival delays its opening

“Out of an abundance of caution” over the coronavirus, the Utah Shakespeare Festival has canceled its performances and activities scheduled for June 1-9.

Festival organizers in Cedar City are “monitoring the situation daily,” according to a news release, but plan to open the festival on June 10.

The festival is taking ticket orders online and by telephone; the box office will open June 10 for walk-up orders.

— Scott D. Pierce

9:50 a.m.: Rhode Island politician says she contracted the virus in Park City

A former Rhode Island state legislator claims she contracted the coronavirus on a trip to Utah.

Amy Rice, who served in the Rhode Island House of Representatives from 2005-11, posted this on Facebook: “Two days after dining at a restaurant in Park City, Utah, I learned that one of their employees tested positive. The next morning I awoke to chills and chest pain.”

She went on to write in the Wednesday-evening post that she was told the infected worker was not at the restaurant the night she dined there, theorizing, “I must have gotten [the virus] from an asymptomatic employee. It goes to show you that it’s truly out there. So these closures and precautions are vital and must be taken seriously.”

Rice wrote that she has a slight fever, headache and cough, but she’s “super healthy with no issues” and “hope[s] to beat it in a few more days.”

— Scott D. Pierce

9:30 a.m.: SLC Schools offer hygiene kits to families

In addition to school lunches, Salt Lake City School District will now provide families with hygiene kits and larger grab-and-go boxes of food.

Beginning Thursday, those will be available at the district’s three community learning centers from 8 a.m. to noon. The addresses are:

• Rose Park: 1105 W. 1000 North

• Liberty: 1078 S. 300 East

• Glendale: 1388 S. 1340 West Navajo Street

The hygiene kits include a bar of soap, a toothbrush, toothpaste and tissues. Families picking them up are asked not to get out of their cars, but instead wait for a staff member to walk one over when they arrive.

— Courtney Tanner

9 a.m.: AAA closes all its branch locations

All AAA branches have been close until further notice because of the COVID-19 outbreak, but the company will continue to provide roadside assistance.

"The health and safety of our employees and members is our top priority,” according to AAA.

Car repair locations remain open, and AAA staffers will be available online (AAA.com, by telephone (800-922-8228) and on its mobile app to help customers with membership, insurance, travel and other service needs.

In Utah, AAA has branches in Salt Lake City, Murray, Ogden, Farmington and St. George.

— Scott D. Pierce

8:20 a.m.: Utah’s coronavirus hotline is back

Utah’s 5.7 earthquake on Wednesday temporarily sidelined the hotline people can call to get information about the coronavirus and testing.

It’s back in action now. The number to call is 1-800-456-7707.

— Matt Canham

7:55 a.m.: Ben McAdams talks about having the virus on NBC’s “Today Show"

In an appearance on NBC’s “Today Show” on Thursday, Rep. Ben McAdams, D- Utah, told host Hoda Kotb that he is “concerned” that other members of Congress may have contracted the coronavirus.

“What I’ve been told by the House physician is that anyone who had close contact with me from Friday onward should be concerned and should probably take precautions,” McAdams said from his Utah home. “There aren’t a lot of members with whom I had close contact” and walking on to the House floor to vote “probably doesn’t qualify as a risk to someone.”

Kotb asked McAdams how Congress can continue to do business if members are getting sick.

“It does place a limit on the ability of Congress to get stuff done,” McAdams said during his 4½ minute interview. And asked if remote voting should be allowed, the congressman said the House should consider changing its rules “under certain provisions.”

— Scott D. Pierce

7:45 a.m.: Utah bread sales are up

One local bakery has seen a big increase in bread sales since people started self-isolating.

“We have done nothing different in our daily, made-from-scratch bread, but we have seen an instant increase in bread sales by 35% over February sales,” said James Worthington, CEO of Kneaders Bakery & Café.

He went on to say that Kneaders is “strictly adhering to CDC and health department guidelines” as it prepares sandwiches, salads, pastries and soups, and has kept its drive-thru services open at all 20 of its Utah locations.

Kneaders is serving meals curbside, at the pickup, and through Kneaders.com and DoorDash.

— Scott D. Pierce