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It’s Tuesday, March 24. We’ll provide the latest coronavirus updates involving Utah throughout the day.
[Read complete coronavirus coverage here.]
8:50 p.m.: Salt Lake City Council OKs $1M loan program for local businesses
The Salt Lake City Council gave final approval Tuesday to a $1 million loan program meant to help local businesses that have been negatively affected by the coronavirus outbreak.
The flexible term, zero interest rate emergency funding is intended to help companies make payroll, pay bills and keep operations going until they can obtain federal assistance through the Small Business Administration in coming weeks.
The loans will be approved based on need, with a cap of $20,000 per organization. The funds are available to for-profit and nonprofit companies with 50 employees or fewer, meaning the city’s hard-hit arts organizations could apply, as well, and at least a quarter of the funding must be allocated to businesses west of Interstate 15.
Each agreement will be reviewed by a committee to ensure the money is spent on critical needs and not on non-essentials, such as land procurement or construction improvements, for example.
Separately, the City Council also is considering a proposal to set aside $2 million for employee-related issues as a result of the coronavirus, as well as to pay hourly workers sick leave, and $4 million for unforeseen needs as the city works to address the public health crisis. A vote on those budget amendments could come as soon as April 7.
— Taylor Stevens
7:35 p.m.: Huntsman Corp. to produce hand sanitizer and donate it to hospitals, pharmacies
The Huntsman Corp. will start producing hand sanitizer to donate to hospitals and pharmacies facing shortages because of the coronavirus.
The company will make the hydro alcoholic solution at its manufacturing site in Monthey, Switzerland, in response to an “urgent appeal” by Swiss authorities, according to a news release.
The plan is to deliver a first shipment of 5 tons and then provide a continuous supply of between 3 and 5 tons per week.
Huntsman recently donated its chemical products to help manufacture personal protective equipment and insulation panels for hospital construction in China.
“We are very humbled to be in a position to contribute what we do every day to help in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic,” Peter Huntsman, chairman, president and CEO of Huntsman Corp., said in a prepared statement.
Editor’s note: Peter Huntsman is the brother of Paul Huntsman, Tribune owner and publisher.
— Bethany Rodgers
6:25 p.m.: Officials warn against flushing toilet paper substitutes
Facing a shortage of toilet paper in many stores around the state amid the coronavirus outbreak, some Utahns are turning to alternatives like “flushable” disinfectant wipes.
But Department of Environmental Quality spokesman Jared Mendenhall sought Tuesday to remind residents that those substitutes should be put in the garbage — not flushed.
“Only toilet paper needs to be flushed down the toilet,” he said. “We’ve seen across the country some issues where some of those water treatment facilities have been backed up because too many of those flushable wipes that aren’t exactly flushable are being flushed down the toilet.”
Toilet paper substitutes can cause problems at sewer treatment plants, but they can also clog pipes and back up sewage systems in the home, Mendenhall said.
While there’s been an increase in non-flushable items moving through the system in Utah, “we haven’t had an issue where something’s had to shut down or something like that,” he added. “But we do know the operators are concerned and they want to get that message out.”
— Taylor Stevens
4:05 p.m.: Salt Lake City police report jump in domestic violence calls
Salt Lake City police have seen a 30% increase in domestic violence calls over the last two weeks, as more people are staying home because of the coronavirus.
While domestic violence-related calls have been increasing since the beginning of the year, SLCPD spokesman Greg Wilking said the last two weeks have shown a “dramatic uptick.”
The last week in February showed 71 domestic violence-related offenses; the number stayed relatively flat the first week of March, at 73. The next week — March 9 through 15 — the number of offenses increased to 96.
Last week also showed 96 offenses, according to data provided by SLCPD.
“These are challenging times and people are under a lot of stress. Unfortunately, this stress can spill out into relationships,” Chief Mike Brown said in a news release. “It is never acceptable to perpetrate violence against another. We encourage people to find healthy ways of handling their stress and to think twice before acting in anger.”
SLCPD said victim advocates are available for those seeking help, and that protective orders can be obtained over the phone or online. SLCPD advocates are available at 801-580-7969.
Editor’s note: Those who are experiencing intimate partner violence, or know someone who is, can also call the Utah Domestic Violence Link Line, 1-800-897-LINK (5465), or the Utah Rape and Sexual Assault Crisis Line, 1-888-421-1100. In an emergency, call 911.
— Paighten Harkins
3:50 p.m.: Emigration Market will limit customers starting Thursday
Harmons Grocery later this week will begin allowing only 20 customers at a time into its Emigration Market location, according to a message from the store director.
A letter to customers states that the new precaution, meant to prevent COVID-19 from spreading, will take effect Thursday.
The store instructs customers waiting to enter the market to maintain 6 feet of distance between one another. Inside the building, only one shopper at a time will be permitted in an aisle and through checkout so staff can clean and sanitize between transactions.
“The safety of our customers and associates remains our priority, and we are committed to staying open so we can continue to serve the community and ensure a healthy shopping environment with fully stocked shelves,” wrote Rae Tafoya, Emigration Market store director.
Over the weekend, Harmons installed plexiglass barriers at its checkout stations and in the pharmacy and business areas of their stores to help protect staff and customers.
— Bethany Rodgers
3 p.m.: Family doctors want Utahns ordered to stay home
Utah family doctors want government leaders to order Utahns to stay at home for two weeks — starting immediately — to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Encouraging Utahns to remain 6 feet apart in public has not been effective enough, and “parents need the support of an order” to help young people comply, the Utah Academy of Family Physicians said in a statement Tuesday.
“We are particularly concerned that those without symptoms can transmit and spread the virus without realizing it — which can severely affect our capacity to safeguard the health of our communities,” the academy statement said.
“We request the Governor order all persons in the State of Utah to stay home or at their place of residence except as needed to maintain continuity of state operations deemed critical by the Governor’s office," it said. "Individuals should only leave their residence and practice social distancing to acquire necessities such as food, medicine, or medical care.”
The academy represents more than 1,100 physicians, family medicine residents, and medical students across the state. Its members are “gravely concerned” about the impact of the coronavirus on the public and on family physicians, the statement said.
Stay-at-home orders can be reassessed and extended or lifted as necessary, the academy said. To keep the state’s health care system from becoming overwhelmed and to support health care workers, the academy also is asking Utah officials to:
• Provide more personal protective equipment immediately; encourage donations from businesses.
• Arrange to provide hotel rooms, vacation rentals and empty residences as free housing for health care providers who need to isolate to protect their families.
• Provide housing for high-risk homeless individuals unable to isolate in large shelters.
• Consider using empty hotels or warehouses as ‘field hospitals;’, start coordinating with the Utah National Guard in case hospital beds are filled.
• Ensure malpractice coverage for any provider who takes on broader care duties or works at an alternative site.
— Sheila R. McCann
2:40 p.m.: Herbert issues economic plan that begins with protecting the health of residents
Gov. Gary Herbert unveiled a three-part plan Tuesday for healing damage to Utah’s economy, while also continuing to protect the health of state residents.
In a teleconference Tuesday afternoon, Herbert said the “Utah Leads Together" plan — developed over the last week and available at coronavirus.utah.gov — consists of three phases: urgent short-term steps; those enacted once government relief takes hold and the economy starts to stabilize; and those that will lift commerce toward full recovery.
Its benchmarks extend between six and half and nine months into the future and detail steps at each phase — with all of it rooted in continuing to closely follow recommendations of public health officials and expanding availability testing for the COVID-19 virus, as well as staying engaged in larger economic trends.
Others said the plan’s approach also aimed to inject confidence into Utah’s business world and give residents more certainty as they plan for getting out of the emergency.
“These are all things that will help us as we go into the restoration of our economy,” said Natalie Gochnour, director of the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute and member of Herbert’s Governor’s Economic Response Task Force.
— Tony Semerad
2:05 p.m.: Mitt Romney comes up negative
Washington • Sen. Mitt Romney has tested negative for COVID-19, his office said Tuesday, though the Utah Republican will stay in quarantine for the full 14 days out of precaution.
“Thankfully I’ve tested negative for COVID-19,” Romney tweeted. “Nevertheless, guidance from my physician, consistent with the CDC guidelines, requires me to remain in quarantine as the test does not rule out the onset of symptoms during the 14-day period.”
Romney, on advice of the attending physician of Congress, has isolated himself after being in close contact with Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who has tested positive for the novel coronavirus disease.
— Thomas Burr
1:04 p.m.: More people getting tested every day, state official says
The state of Utah now can test around 2,600 people a day for COVID-19, Angela Dunn, the state epidemiologist, said Tuesday.
Because of that greater test capacity, the Utah Department of Health is able to expand the criteria for who can get tested, Dunn said at UDOH’s daily briefing.
Also, because of the increased capacity, Dunn said, results are usually getting back to patients sooner, between 24 and 48 hours. The exception is that some health care providers are running their test results through national firms, which can take 3 to 7 days.
Dunn said UDOH is working with the governor’s office to develop policy regarding halting the spread of COVID-19. “We’re all on the same team,” she said.
So far, Utah has not ordered people to shelter in place, as some states have, but recommended people use social distancing and stay at home at much as possible. “If you’re sheltering in place for 15 days, what happens on day 16?,” Dunn said. “Time will tell. … We need to be aware of what policies society will tolerate for a long period of time."
Deciding when to lift restrictions, Dunn said, is “a very difficult and careful decision, that has to be made with all the experts at the table.”
— Sean Means
12:45 p.m.: Utah now has 298 confirmed cases
Utah has 298 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the Utah Department of Health reported Tuesday — up 41 cases from the 257 reported Monday.
Salt Lake County has 127 cases as of Tuesday, up 15 from the day before.
Summit County has 90 cases, a rise of 17 from Monday.
Salt Lake and Summit account for 73% of Utah’s confirmed cases.
The next highest total is in Davis County, which has 31 cases, up two from Monday. Davis County also has the only fatality from COVID-19 in Utah so far.
Wasatch County reports 16 cases as of Tuesday, up from 12 the day before.
Utah County has 14 cases, up from 12 on Monday.
The Weber-Morgan Health Department reports nine cases in those counties on Tuesday, one more than Monday’s tally.
The number of people who have tested for coronavirus, as of Tuesday, is at 5,823, up from 5,048.
— Sean Means
12:45 p.m.: Get a free kit to make your own mask
Itching to make your own medical mask? JOANN Fabrics is giving away free kits at all of its Utah stores. Just be patient.
Employees are putting together the fabric, thread and elastic as they go. The 3300 South store has the capacity to make about 50 each day and they go fast, said store manager Leslie Bair.
Kits are available one per household and they have enough fabric, fusible interface and elastic to make five masks. You can donate masks back to JOANN and they’ll be brought to a hospital.
Now, here’s the important disclaimer: These masks don’t stop the coronavirus. These masks can block big droplets, not all of the small ones. The only ones that do that are N95 masks and those are not something most people can make at home.
But the masks are helpful for people who have a cold, and they do encourage you not to touch your face.
— Matt Canham
11:45 a.m.: Utah orders a stop to non-urgent medical, dental and veterinary care
The Utah Department of Health ordered a temporary halt on non-urgent medical, dental and veterinary procedures to help preserve protective gear for health professionals.
“Postponing non-essential procedures is a crucial step to help our health systems preserve PPE [personal protective equipment] and other resources that are crucial in our efforts to treat patients with coronavirus,” said Joseph Miner, executive director of the Utah Department of Health.
Gov. Gary Herbert said, “I genuinely appreciate the willingness of Utah’s major healthcare systems, and many individual doctors, dentists, veterinarians, and other health providers, to act proactively to help us preserve the masks, gowns, gloves, and other personal protective equipment (PPE) that will be necessary in the coming days and weeks to protect our front-line doctors, nurses and other health workers and ensure they stay healthy and able to care for patients.”
“I also appreciate the patience of Utahns who were planning procedures that will now be delayed,” the governor said. “Although the term ‘elective’ indicates something that is non-essential, I realize this will still be an inconvenience, and for that I am sorry. As we look at the experiences of other states and regions of the world, it’s clear that those who are proactive in securing a supply of PPE are far better equipped when they see a surge of COVID-19 patients being admitted to hospitals.”
According to guidance by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service, examples of elective procedures include colonoscopies, cataracts, endoscopies, and other procedures that can be delayed without endangering patients.
The order is effective beginning Wednesday through April 25, 2020.
— Lee Davidson
10:20 a.m.: Feds release health clinic money to pay for more tests, medical supplies
Washington • The federal government is sending nearly $1 million to health clinics across Utah to screen and test for the coronavirus as well as purchase medical supplies and boost telehealth technology, the Department of Health and Human Services announced Tuesday.
The 13 centers in Utah, ranging from the Wayne Community Health Center in Bicknell to the Midtown Community Health Center in Ogden, will share $955,000 to help combat the outbreak.
The money is part of the second phase of funding Congress approved to help communities impacted by the crisis. The money is available immediately, HHS said.
HHS Secretary Alex Azar said local health centers have been “critical players” in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The new grants we’re releasing today are a rapid injection of resources secured by President Trump from Congress in the supplemental funding bill, building on the strong investments HHS has made in health centers over the years,” Azar said.
Other Utah centers receiving funding are located in: Garden City, East Carbon, Midvale, Enterprise, Green River, Provo, Cedar City, St. George, Montezuma Creek and Salt Lake City.
— Thomas Burr
9:15 a.m.: Einsteins Bros. donating a box of bagles for every one purchased
For every ‘baker’s dozen box” purchased at its stores, Einstein Bros. Bagels will donate a similar amount to a schools, food bank, police department or other community group, the company announced this week.
A box includes 13 bagels and two tubs of “shmear.”
“Einstein Bros. Bagels is dedicated to supporting its local communities during the COVID-19 crisis,” the company said in a news release, “and has pledged to donate bagels to those in need,”.
Patrons are encouraged to use the Einstein Bros. app to order ahead.
— McKhelyn Jones