Editor’s note: The Salt Lake Tribune is providing readers free access to critical local stories about the coronavirus during this time of heightened concern. See more coverage here. To support journalism like this, please consider donating or become a subscriber.

It’s Wednesday, March 25. We’ll provide the latest coronavirus updates involving Utah throughout the day.

[Read complete coronavirus coverage here.]

----

9:32 p.m.: Special session to deal with COVID-19 fallout will happen this year, Senate president says

Senate President Stuart Adams said Wednesday that the state Legislature will “for sure” have a special session this year to deal with its budget amid the coronavirus outbreak.

As a result of the outbreak and social distancing measures to curb its spread, unemployment claims are “way up,” he said during a streamed conversation with Silicon Slopes Executive Director Clint Betts, who’s also a member of The Salt Lake Tribune’s editorial board. Meanwhile, the stock market is down and some national economic experts are warning of an impending recession.

“This is probably the biggest economic challenge we’ve ever had in the history of the state and I’d even go into the ’40s, into the Depression,” Adams said of the coronavirus. “Our economy is really challenged right now.”

A three-stage plan Utah. Gov Gary Herbert unveiled Tuesday anticipates the prospect of tapping the state of Utah’s nearly $1 billion rainy day fund at some point. But Adams warned that the state doesn’t have what he called a “typhoon fund or a hurricane fund.”

The exact timeline of a special session has yet to be announced. But in the final days of this year’s legislative session, which ended earlier this month, lawmakers approved a bill allowing them to meet electronically during emergencies — meaning they wouldn’t need to meet in person and risk spreading the coronavirus in order to legislate.

Taylor Stevens

7:28 p.m.: Latter-day Saint temples globally to close temporarily

Starting Thursday, all temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will close because of the coronavirus.

“After careful and prayerful consideration, and with a desire to be responsible global citizens, we have decided to suspend all temple activity churchwide,” the governing First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints wrote in a letter to the faith’s 16.3 million members.

Peggy Fletcher Stack

6 p.m.: Governor eases up on telehealth rules, promotes its use

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert issued an executive order Wednesday that makes it easier for health providers to provide telehealth care to their patients.

The order allows medical providers to offer telehealth services that do not comply with the security and privacy standards currently outlined in Utah law — as long as the provider informs patients of the noncompliance, offers them an opportunity to decline services and takes “reasonable care” to ensure client security and privacy.

“While we applaud health systems that have already expanded to offer telehealth services that provide the highest levels of privacy, we don’t want to stop health providers new to offering telehealth from innovating and using video conferencing programs that are readily available to them,” Herbert said in a statement. “The more opportunities we can create for patients to consult with their medical providers remotely, the more we can prevent the risk of spreading COVID-19 in our clinics and healthcare centers.”

The new allowances around telehealth services will remain in effect until the governor’s state of emergency due to the coronavirus is terminated or otherwise modified.

Taylor Stevens

5:55 p.m.: New domestic violence shelter opens early

As the coronavirus leads to a spike in domestic violence related calls to police departments, a new emergency shelter for survivors is expected to open in Logan on Thursday.

The renovated four-plex will be run by CAPSA, a nonprofit domestic violence, sexual assault and rape recovery center.

“Victims of domestic violence often use school or work as an escape. The coronavirus crisis has led to an increased urgency to get this shelter ready ahead of schedule,” said Mary VanMinde, director of the RSL Foundation, in a statement.

The Dell Loy Hansen Family Foundation purchased the site in January and the RSL Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Real Salt Lake and the Utah Royals, donated $60,000 to make repairs.

The emergency shelter will eventually transition into CAPSA’s housing program.

Taylor Stevens

5:35 p.m.: University of Utah Health issues visitor restrictions

Visitors to University of Utah Health’s hospitals and clinics will face new requirements starting Thursday in an effort to protect patients, providers and staff.

The following changes have been implemented:

• Facilities will no longer allow entry to any person who has tested positive for COVID-19 or is suspected of carrying the virus.

• Clinics and hospitals will allow only two visitors for patients undergoing end of life treatment or care with a one-hour time limit. One partner or support person will be allowed to remain as a patient dies.

• Patients undergoing childbirth are allowed to have one partner accompany them. “Well newborns” may have both parents present for the duration of the birth.

• One visitor will be allowed each for patients with disruptive behavior in which a family member is key to their care, for those who have developmental delays and for minors.

• All visitors are asked to wash their hands, avoid touching their face and stay at home if sick.

The new visitor policy will remain in place until further notice, according to the U. Health website.

— Taylor Stevens

4:25 p.m.: Summit County tells visitors to leave, residents to stay in their homes

Summit County has issued a new order requiring residents to stay at home and avoid any nonessential travel, a first in Utah. The order goes into effect Friday at midnight and lasts until May 1.

“This decision was not made lightly but is in the best interest of public health in Summit County,” Summit County Health Director Rich Bullough said. “When you look at the data, Summit County is a hotspot for COVID-19 statewide, nationally and globally. At this time, Summit County has 20 times the number of cases per capita as Salt Lake County. Our cases per capita rival those of the worst areas of New York City and many parts of Italy.”

Summit County is asking all visitors to leave “as safely and quickly as possible.”

These essential services are allowed to stay open:

  • Essential health care facilities.
  • Banks.
  • Hardware stores.
  • Plumbers, electricians, auto repair and other essential utilities and services.
  • Farming.
  • Post offices.
  • Grocery and convenience stores.
  • Restaurants whose services are allowed under existing health orders.
  • Essential transportation services.

Violations are a class B misdemeanor. The county created a “community concerns line” at 435-333-0050 for people who have questions.

Matt Canham

3:20 p.m.: New site tracks Utah County restaurants

Utah County and Explore Utah Valley launched a new website Wednesday featuring an ongoing list of restaurant offerings in the county and their delivery, pickup or curbside services.

The list will be updated at DineUtahValley.com.

All restaurants, bars and food-service establishments in Utah are no longer offering dine-in service because of the coronavirus epidemic, but dozens that have never offered takeout or delivery before, started as a means of survival.

Taylor Stevens

1:40 p.m.: Don’t donate homemade masks to hospitals, but a way to help is in the works

An impulse to donate homemade masks to Utah hospitals has put health care providers in a bind: They appreciate the thought, but the masks themselves aren’t that helpful for nurses and doctors.

In a joint statement Wednesday, University of Utah Health and Intermountain Healthcare cited “the generosity of so many people in the community” who want to donate homemade medical masks. But, the groups added, “homemade cloth masks do not provide the appropriate level of antimicrobial protection for caregivers in close contact with patients with COVID-19.”

Because of that, U. Health and Intermountain say they are not accepting donations of homemade cloth masks.

The masks can be of some help to individuals though.

U. Health and Intermountain cited a 2013 study that found homemade masks “would be better than no protection,” though they should only be used “as a last resort to prevent droplet transmission from infected individuals.”

With social distancing and other measures, the providers said, homemade masks “may slow the spread of COVID-19 in the community.”

Intermountain and U. Health are working with several Utah charities to develop a way for people in the community to help produce medical-grade masks. When that process is ready, the provider groups will share the information and invite volunteers to make them.

Meanwhile, to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to patients or health care workers, neither U. Health nor Intermountain is accepting any drop-off donations of toys, blankets, food or other physical items. The providers also ask people not to call the COVID-19 hotlines about donations, so the lines are clear for calls from people with medical needs.

Sean Means

1:20 p.m.: Utah’s social distancing plan is working

Utah’s lead epidemiologist says efforts to reduce coronavirus cases are starting to show some success, though she said people need to continue to stay home if possible and true progress won’t be seen until the number of new positive cases starts to decline.

Utah has recorded a 16% increase in coronavirus cases in each of the past two days, according to data from the Utah Department of Health. That’s less of an increase than in some early days of the outbreak.

“I think we can be confident that we are bending the curve here in Utah with our social distancing method,” Angela Dunn, the state epidemiologist, said at a news conference Wednesday.

Dunn said only 5% of COVID-19 tests in Utah are positives. That’s less than some states with outbreaks, such as New York.

Mitigation efforts such as social distancing, hand-washing and sanitizing may be showing signs of success, and Dunn said people need to continue them so the number of cases declines.

“We need to continue social distancing methods in Utah,” Dunn said, “so we don’t see that huge peak that New York did.”

Medical professionals still fear being overwhelmed by COVID-19 cases. Dunn on Wednesday asked for health professionals or clinics that are not treating coronavirus cases to donate medical-grade protective apparel such as gloves, gowns and masks.

She also asked for companies or workers in construction or mining to donate any caches of N95 masks. The state’s coronavirus website has a link to direct donations. Go to coronavirus.utah.gov.

Nate Carlisle

12:30 p.m.: Utah’s cases rise to 346

Another 48 people in Utah have tested positive for coronavirus, bringing the state’s total to 346, the Utah Department of Health reported Wednesday.

Salt Lake County rose to 154 from Tuesday’s count of 127, accounting for more than half the increase. Summit County went from 90 cases to 97 and Utah County went from 14 to 19.

Another 1,014 people were tested since Tuesday, the department said.

The state has been increasing its testing capacity with help from private laboratories. Officially, 6,837 people have been tested in Utah, though in the early days of testing, laboratories were not required to report negative tests.

Also, while labs are required to report positive test results immediately, there might be a 72-hour lag in reporting negative tests. There have been no new coronavirus deaths in Utah. The lone fatality is a Davis County man who died Sunday.

Nate Carlisle

12:15 p.m.: New federal help on sick leave

The U.S. Department of Labor has published new guidance for workers and employers on how to take advantage of relief on paid sick leave, family medical leave and other provisions of the newly passed Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

The act, which takes effect April 1, will give all American businesses with fewer than 500 employees new cash to provide their employees paid leave, allowing them to stay home for their own health, care for an ill family member or comply with public health orders that they stay home — and not give up the paychecks.

• Workers can find information at: dol.gov/agencies/whd/pandemic/ffcra-employee-paid-leave

• For employers, there’s guidance at: dol.gov/agencies/whd/pandemic/ffcra-employee-paid-leave

• General questions are answered at: dol.gov/agencies/whd/pandemic/ffcra-questions

The Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division also has additional information on issues commonly faced by employers and employees hit by the COVID-18 emergency.

Tony Semerad

11:45 a.m.: Salt Lake City accepting emergency loan applications

Salt Lake City Economic Development announced Wednesday that it will now accept applications for the second round of Salt Lake City’s emergency loan program.

“We know many businesses have been deeply impacted by COVID-19 and we’re working around the clock to help,” said a tweet.

Businesses that want to apply must be located in Salt Lake City limits. The maximum loan amount a business can receive is $20,000 and this can only be used for working capital, marketing and inventory. Loans have 0% interest for a 5-year term.

Companies that receive a loan will have repayment deferred for 90 days after Mayor Erin Mendenhall’s declaration of a local emergency expires.

The application deadline is Thursday, April 2 at 11:59 p.m.

Zoi Walker

11:30 a.m.: Utah Dems say candidates should stop signature gathering

The Utah Democratic Party is urging candidates of all political stripes to stop gathering signatures as they seek a spot on the primary ballot.

Party Chairman Jeff Merchant said he has already contacted Democratic candidates across the state and directed them to stop asking people to sign petitions in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Fortunately, every candidate I have spoken to has already done so,” Merchant said in a news release.

However, the Utah Democrats have received “dozens of complaints” about candidates from other parties going door to door, the release stated. While there are a number of competitive Republican races underway, the state’s Democrats say candidates should not risk public health by ignoring social distancing guidance.

“Health care providers, teachers, small business owners, students, restaurateurs, civil servants, many hourly employees and others are already making sacrifices,” Merchant said. “Politicians should make adjustments to their campaigns and sacrifice as well.”

Bethany Rodgers

11:20 a.m.: Smith’s working to protect workers

Employees at Smith’s Food & Drug stores will be permitted to wear masks and gloves, the company announced Wednesday, but with a shortage of protective gear nationally, that may prove difficult.

Store officials are saying that — after health care workers obtain their necessary equipment — “government officials should work to give essential grocery store employees” protection during the pandemic.

Until then, Smith’s will be installing plexiglass partitions at many cash registers, to further promote physical distancing, Aubriana Martindale, Smith’s corporate affairs manager, said in a news release.

“Many of our stores are beginning the installation process this week,” she said, “and we anticipate every check lane having a partition, including pharmacy counters and Starbucks registers by the end of next week.”

In addition, educational floor decals — to promote physical distancing at checkout lines and other counters — will be installed.

Smith's also has adjusted store operating hours from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. to allow more time for associates to rest, clean and replenish inventory.

“We believe all these steps will help to ensure the safety of our associates,” she said, ”and help our communities to flatten the curve while at the same time meeting our obligation to be there for our customers.”

— Kathy Stephenson

10:09 a.m.: Lagoon closed until further notice

Lagoon Amusement Park will not open this weekend as scheduled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the park, it’s the first time since the end of World War II that Lagoon has failed to open on schedule for any reason other than bad weather.

Citing a “fluid” situation with restrictions prompted by the coronavirus, Lagoon will update its status at the beginning of each week on its website, lagoonpark.com.

— Scott D. Pierce

9:30 a.m.: Three Utah brands pledge $1M to keep their restaurants operating, employees on the payroll

The owners of three well-known Utah food brands — R&R BBQ, Mo’ Bettahs and Swig — have pledged $250,000 apiece to keep their businesses operating and their combined 1,400 employees on the payroll, officials announced this week.

The Savory Fund — which has invested in the three food and beverage concepts — also has committed an additional $250,000, bringing the total coronavirus emergency fund to $1 million.

“We commit to keeping our employees engaged whether serving customers, serving each other, or serving the community that has been so good to us,” Andrew K. Smith, the Savory Fund’s co-managing director, said in a news release. “We want our employees to continue to have purpose and direction, and this provides some relief during this very uncertain time.”

All three restaurants began as small, family-owned Utah businesses, but the founders were unable to expand without help. In recent years, all have sold 51% of their companies to the Utah-based Four Foods Group, which, along with its Savory Foods investment arm, has provided the financing and expertise needed to expand.

Today, R&R BBQ has eight locations; Mo’ Bettahs has 13 stores, and Swig has 18 soda shops.

— Kathy Stephenson

8 a.m.: More Utah grocery stores install safety shields

More Utah grocery stores have added glass barriers at checkout counters and pharmacies to protect employees and customers from spreading the coronavirus.

Large, plexiglass safety shields have been added at all Macey’s, Dan’s, Dick’s, Lin’s and Fresh Market stores throughout the state, said Sarah Pettit, public relations manager for Associated Food Stores.

The installation of the barriers “is yet another example of the preventative measures we are taking in our stores to help protect our team and our guests,” she said. “Our company is continuing to analyze and find additional ways to evolve its team and guest safety initiatives in response to the COVID-19 threat.”

[SIGN UP: The Trib’s Utah Eats newsletter tracks all the vital food news during this coronavirus crisis]

— Kathy Stephenson

8 a.m.: Utah gets money to help feed older adults

The federal government awarded Utah a $1.56 million grant Tuesday to help provide more meals for older adults during the coronavirus outbreak.

It aims to assist groups that provide food through programs such as Meals on Wheels. It was part of additional funding created by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act signed into law by President Donald Trump on March 18.

“This additional funding will help communities across the country provide older adults, especially those at greatest risk, with the healthy meals they need,” said Administration for Community Living Administrator Lance Robertson as the $250 million in grants nationwide were announced.

The need for home-delivered and packaged meals has increased as some community centers that offered meals have closed, and left some family caregivers unable to assist older loved ones.

Older adults who need assistance may contact the Eldercare Locator to find services in their community. The Eldercare Locator can be reached at 1-800-677-1116 or eldercare.acl.gov.

— Lee Davidson

7:38 a.m.: Trump ‘can barely speak’ about Romney’s negative COVID-19 test

News that Sen. Mitt Romney has tested negative for COVID-19 prompted President Donald Trump to offer his best wishes — or not.

In an early morning tweet, Trump cheered the results of Romney’s coronavirus test with a measure of snark: “This is really great news! I am so happy I can barely speak.”

Trump went on to write, “He may have been a terrible presidential candidate and an even worse U.S. Senator, but he is a RINO, and I like him a lot!”

(For those not up on political acronyms, “RINO” stands for “Republican in name only,” considered an insult by faithful members of the GOP.)

Trump’s disdain for the Utah Republican resurfaced in early February, after Romney was the only GOP senator to vote in favor of the president’s removal at his impeachment trial.

Romney went into self-quarantine after learning that Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., had tested positive for coronavirus. Romney had been in close contact with Paul.

Romney flew back to Utah on a private plane, along with Sen. Mike Lee, who also went into self-quarantine after being in contact with Paul. Romney said Tuesday he plans to stay in quarantine for the full 14 days, as a precaution.

Trump had previously said, “Gee, that’s too bad,” when told Romney may have the novel coronavirus earlier this week.

The president’s tweet comes as Senate leaders and the White House announced a deal on a massive $2 trillion measure meant to aid Americans and businesses struggling as the virus outbreak spread across the country.

Romney issued a statement supporting the deal reached early Wednesday, though he won’t be able to vote for it because he’s isolating himself in his Utah home.

“I am pleased that this agreement includes several important provisions I pushed for, including direct cash relief for workers and families, grants and loans for small businesses to keep their employees, and an expansion of unemployment insurance to immediately assist laid-off and furloughed workers,” Romney said. “The agreement also includes much-needed relief for our medical personnel on the frontlines and a bipartisan measure I helped introduce to strengthen the supply chain in order for hospitals to have the necessary equipment and supplies.”

Lee has not said if he supported the stimulus bill. His office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

— Sean P. Means and Thomas Burr

7:13 a.m.: Disney’s ‘Frozen’ at the Eccles is canceled

Elsa won’t be making ice castles in Salt Lake City’s Eccles Theatre any time soon, because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The national touring production of Disney’s “Frozen,” set for April 15 to May 3 at the Eccles, has been canceled, according to an announcement sent to Broadway at the Eccles subscribers Tuesday night.

Patrons are asked to hold on to their tickets, while theater managers try to reschedule the show dates. If no new dates are available and the engagement is canceled, Broadway at the Eccles will offer refunds, credits or exchanges.

The cancellation is one outcome of Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson’s order that the four county-run performing arts venues — the Eccles, Abravanel Hall, the Capitol Theatre and the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center — will remain closed through May 15.

— Sean P. Means