Live coronavirus updates for Thursday, March 26: SLC councilman tests positive for COVID-19

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It’s Thursday, March 26. We’ll provide the latest coronavirus updates involving Utah throughout the day.

[Read complete coronavirus coverage here.]

8:27 p.m.: SLC Councilman Dan Dugan tests positive for COVID-19

Salt Lake City Councilman Dan Dugan has been diagnosed with COVID-19, the council announced late Thursday.

Dugan is the second council member to test positive for the virus. District 5 council member Darin Mano was diagnosed last week.

Dugan is in quarantine at home, where he’s been for the past 13 days after experiencing mild symptoms from possible exposure to the virus, according to the news release.

He was tested toward the end of his self-imposed isolation, learning he was positive for COVID-19 “just at the time I believed I was clear of the virus.”

“I cannot stress enough the importance of staying home and how vital it is to adhere to social distancing,” he said in the release. “We must keep our distance and discourage social gathering.”

He has been showing minor symptoms, the release added, and is “feeling fine."

— Paighten Harkins

6:40 p.m.: Grantsville man on ventilator after illness that began with ‘tickle in his throat'

The wife of a 42-year-old Grantsville man who was diagnosed with COVID-19 after a family vacation to Disneyland wants people to know the virus can infect anyone, the Tooele Transcript Bulletin reported.

Justin Christensen’s illness began with a “tickle in his throat” during the vacation — the family of six’s first ever — and got worse from there, Rayna Christensen told the Transcript Bulletin.

On March 15, he was back home but gasping for air. Two days later, he was airlifted to the hospital. He remains in advanced care, hooked up to a ventilator.

Rayna Christensen told the Transcript Bulletin her husband had no underlying medical conditions.

She is also now showing symptoms and is quarantined at home away from their children.

“This virus is not biased,” she told the newspaper, adding that people should, “Stay safe. Take every precaution possible. Take advantage of the family time you have right now.

“All prayers," she said, “are welcome.”

— Paighten Harkins

3:38 p.m.: Mendenhall says SLC may shelter in place if the state doesn’t release a mandate

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said Thursday that if the state won’t issue a shelter-at-home mandate, the capital city will act alone.

“I’m ready as your mayor of Salt Lake City if we need to act,” she said in a video posted to Twitter on Thursday. “But I absolutely prefer to act in concert with our state partners and our county partners.”

Mendenhall said her goal is to ensure a statewide mandate, arguing that it would be a more effective way to slow the spread of the virus.

“It is so much more impactful if we can act together,” she continued. “That’s sort of the beauty of Utah. When we do well as a state, it is when we are working together, when we’re setting down the politics and we’re solving real issues by coming together and now is the time for us to do that.”

Mendenhall said that this is a “critical time” in slowing the spread of the coronavirus and that the decisions public officials make have the potential to determine how long and far-reaching the economic consequences of the virus will be.

“We want that economic impact to be as short as possible and we want the virus impact to be as small as possible,” she said.

As of Thursday afternoon, Summit County was the only county in Utah that had issued a shelter-in-place order.

Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson said in a statement that a stay-at-home order will likely be necessary “to avoid overburdening our hospitals as early as April.”

However, she said a decision like that “is best done in coordination with the State of Utah, our neighboring counties, and our municipalities.”

“Today I convened an excellent meeting with state leaders and hospital representatives to collect and compare data so we all can make the most informed decisions. Until we have that information, all Utahns should rigorously follow the existing guidance regarding social distancing and frequent hand-washing,” she concluded.

— Taylor Stevens

3:27 p.m.: Summit County sheriff debunks shelter-in-place rumors

Summit County Sheriff Justin Martinez tried to quash rumors about what residents can and can’t do while the county is under a shelter-in-place order to fight the spread of COVID-19.

In a tweet, Martinez listed 11 common claims he’s heard and debunked most of them.

The county is the hardest hit, per capita, by the virus in Utah, and is the first in the state in enact shelter-in-place restrictions.

Martinez said that despite rumors of the contrary, police won’t be conducting checkpoints, they won’t be coming into people’s homes and officers won’t pull people over if they see them out to check if they’re seeking services deemed “essential.”

The tweet also clarified that “shelter in place” is not the same as being on lockdown. People can still leave Summit County to go to work. They can still shop at grocery stores. They can do yard work, or walk, run, hike or bike. Driving for leisure is OK, too.

However, Martinez did urge people who don’t live in Summit County to not visit the county to recreate.

“Please recreate in your own city/county until orders are lifted,” he said. “Thank you!”

— Paighten Harkins

3:25 p.m.: POST adjusts training for new police officers

Utah’s police certifying agency has been making adjustments in the past few weeks to shift how they are training new police officers amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Director Scott Stephenson told the Peace Officer Standard and Training council members Thursday that they worked extra hours using online courses to quickly get groups of recruits through the program so they are able to begin police work sooner.

And for those who are just beginning the certification process, Stephenson said they have shifted all of their coursework to online — but it might take extra time to get them through the program because they need to limit how many people can go through physical tests at the same time.

State officials’ request to refrain from gathering in large groups didn’t stop police regulators from doling out discipline on Thursday. Ten police officers were disciplined during their quarterly meeting, which was held via a telephone conference rather than an in-person meeting.

—Jessica Miller

2:30 p.m.: Utah is prepared to vote in a pandemic

Utah is one of three states that is truly prepared to conduct elections during a pandemic, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

The nonpartisan law and policy institute released a state-by-state breakdown Thursday of which states have implemented steps that it says are needed to ensure the November elections are safe, accessible, fair and accurate.

Utah, Washington, Colorado and Hawaii are the only states that already have all the suggested steps in place.

That includes voting primarily by mail, or alternatively allowing voters to cast absentee ballots without excuse and allowing them to make online requests for such ballots.

This marks the first year that all 29 counties in Utah are voting primarily by mail.

Other suggested steps include: in-person voting centers open on Election Day in every county, in-person early or absentee voting, online voter registration and same-day voter registration.

Mississippi was the only state that had none of the recommendations proposed in place. Another four — Alabama, Kentucky, Missouri and New Hampshire — lacked all but one of the recommendations.

“While significant changes across the country are needed," the center said, “not all states are starting from the same place.”

The center estimates that it will cost at least $2 billion to make the necessary changes. Congress put $400 million into its stimulus package for such efforts.

— Lee Davidson

1:45 p.m.: Rising number of cases could stretch for several months, says top doc

Utah’s increase in coronavirus cases could last for months, the state’s epidemiologist said Thursday.

“We are doing our best to try to shorten that as much as possible,” Angela Dunn said at her daily news conference, “but we are preparing for several months.”

The number of coronavirus cases has increased 16 percent in each of the past three days. That’s less than in some earlier days of the outbreak, but Dunn said to not put too much stock in that lesser trend. COVID-19 can incubate for up to 14 days before a patient develops symptoms.

“We look two weeks out to see if the numbers hold steady,” Dunn said.

Summit County, which has barely 41,000 residents but 103 coronavirus cases, is the per capita epicenter of Utah’s outbreak. While statewide 5% of tests are positive for COVID-19, Dunn noted, the rate is 30% or 35% in Summit County.

She said health workers in Summit County, including one from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are working to trace the people who had contact with infected patients to alert them and arrest the spread.

Dunn did offer some good news Thursday. She noted the hospitalization rate for coronavirus cases in Utah is 10%, less than some other states and countries. She credited social distancing and Utah’s relatively young population with the low rate.

The coronavirus impacts people age 60 and older hardest.

— Nate Carlisle

1:25 p.m.: Good time to teach kids about internet safety, says Utah’s former first lady

As families hunker down to weather the current pandemic, iKeepSafe, an online safety resource for institutions, companies and communities, has free online books for children that teach a variety of lessons on tech safety.

The e-narrated books feature Faux Paw the Techno Cat, who gets embroiled in all sorts of internet troubles only to learn valuable lessons about cyberbullying, unhealthy media choices and the effects of online use.

Jackie Leavitt, Utah’s former first lady, created iKeepSafe to educate the community on keeping youngsters safe online. The digital resource helps certify institutions in data privacy, specifically institutions involved in the instruction of children.

“We had times with our children when it was clear, as parents, we needed to engage and address digital topics,” Leavitt said. “Safe and healthy interactions and a positive relationship with technology just don’t automatically happen.”

Leavitt says now is the perfect time for parents and children to begin a dialogue on internet safety and ethics because many children are now being home-schooled.

People interested in learning more about internet safety or who are interested in teaching their children about it can find the adventures of Faux Paw here.

— McKhelyn Jones

12:36 p.m.: Utah adds another 56 cases, total tops 400

Utah now has 402 confirmed coronavirus cases and no new deaths to report, according to the latest tally from the state Department of Health. That’s an increase of 56 from Wednesday, when the state reported 346 cases.

For a third day in a row, the growth rate of cases stands at 16%.

Salt Lake County now has 181 cases, up from 154 the day before. And Summit County, the first to issue a stay-at-home order, has 103, up from 97 on Wednesday.

Utah County, the state’s second most populous, went from 19 case to 25.

The state has seen cases rise from 257 on Monday to over 400 on Thursday as the ability to administer tests has grown.

In all, 7,710 people have been tested, though that is likely an undercount as some private labs have a lag in their reporting time.

— Matt Canham

12:30 p.m.: USU to study how to treat coronavirus

Utah State University has received a $2.5 million grant to study the coronavirus and how to treat it.

Researchers at the northern Utah school will, in particular, be testing antiviral drugs to see which are effective in responding to the disease. The work is supported by the National Institutes of Health.

Bart Tarbet, a research associate professor in USU’s Department of Animal, Dairy and Veterinary Sciences, will lead the study. His work will involve some animal testing on mice and hamsters. Those rodents are “genetically engineered,” he said, to be susceptible to the same type of viruses that humans are.

“We understand the urgency,” Tarbet added in a statement.

In addition to other compounds, the lab will study two drugs that some health officials — and President Donald Trump — have touted as a potential treatment. Those are: chloroquine and azithromycin. Chloroquine is often used to treat malaria. And azithromycin, Tarbet noted, is an anti-bacterial medication that hasn’t, at least in past studies, responded to other viral influenzas.

Some researchers have even said both may do more harm than good. But that’s what Tarbet, whose worked with infectious diseases for 25 years, hopes to determine — and if there are better solutions.

He said: “We have no shortage of potential drugs to evaluate.”

— Courtney Tanner

12:25 p.m.: Utah highway projects forge ahead

Although coronavirus restrictions may reduce the gasoline and sales taxes that help fund highway construction, the state is not planning to slow or reduce its planned projects.

“We are not proposing to postpone,” Carlos Braceras, executive director of the Utah Department of Transportation, told the Utah Transportation Commission on Thursday.

He said most states similarly have not halted projects — although he noted the state of Washington just suspended its program temporarily, which is costing it an estimated $3 million each day in delay costs.

But in Utah, “The governor does not want to slow or shut down our construction program,” Braceras said. “Too much of our economy is being supported with the close to 15,000 contract employees that we have working with us on this, and then all the cascading for suppliers and such.”

Commission member Natalie Gochnour, an economist who directs the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute and is one of the architects of Gov. Gary Herbert’s new plan on how to rebuild the state economy agreed.

“I’m in a lot of discussions because of the work I’ve been doing on the economy,” she said. “In every one of those discussions, construction is held as a critical industry and would not be affected” by shutdowns.

— Lee Davidson

12:20 p.m.: 3D printers are making medical shield at the University of Utah

The University of Utah is using its 3D printers to create medical supplies for doctors working during the coronavirus pandemic.

The school’s library staff have set the printers to produce plastic face shields, which have been in short supply during the outbreak.

“We are fortunate to be a part of helping provide the protective shields that our health care workers so desperately need,” said Alberta Comer, dean of libraries at the U. “And we’ll continue to help in any way we can.”

The work has been verified by the U.’s hospitals and the shields now meet medical-grade standards. When all 30 of its printers are up and running, the school will be producing up to 300 shields each day.

— Courtney Tanner

11:45 a.m.: Costco reduces its hours

Beginning Monday, Costco stores will close two hours earlier than normal, officials announced Thursday on the company’s Facebook page.

“We will close at 6:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Gas stations will close at 7 p.m.”, the post said.

The temporary change will not affect weekend hours.

Most grocery stores in Utah have reduced hours to give employees time to rest, sanitize the store and restock shelves.

— Kathy Stephenson

11:20 a.m.: TSA worker at Salt Lake City airport tests positive

A Transportation Security Administration screening officer who worked at Salt Lake City International Airport has tested positive for COVID-19.

TSA said the last shift that officer worked was Tuesday between 4 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. in Terminal 1.

In the past 14 days across the nation, 28 TSA screening officers have tested positive for COVID-19. In addition, 10 nonscreening employees who have relatively limited interaction with the traveling public tested positive over the same period.

TSA put a map online to notify the public about airports where TSA officers have tested positive. It notes that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends post-exposure health management measures for asymptomatic exposed individuals continue until 14 days after the last potential exposure.

Airports nationally that had the most officers test positive include: seven at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City; five at Newark Liberty International Airport; and two each at Orlando International Airport, Detroit International Airport and Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C.

Bill Wyatt, executive director of Salt Lake City International Airport, said Monday that passengers there are down about 75% because of the virus.

— Lee Davidson

11 a.m.: Push by Ty Burrell and city to help restaurant workers hits delay

An effort to help Salt Lake City bar and restaurant workers affected by the coronavirus pandemic is taking longer to launch than anticipated.

Last Friday, “Modern Family” actor Ty Burrell, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall and the Downtown Alliance launched the program — “Tip Your Server” — that aims to give grants of $2,000 to employees of any Salt Lake City restaurant or bar who have been laid off recently, due to closures designed to halt the COVID-19 spread.

Then, the city and the Downtown Alliance said the details of the program would be worked out by Wednesday. On the program’s website, though, that date has been pushed to Friday.

The plan would call for employers to provide lists of affected workers to the city, Employers would be able to submit those names starting Friday.

Burrell and his wife, Holly, kicked off the campaign by donating $100,000. The Burrells own two bars in downtown Salt Lake City — Bar X and the Beer Bar, both on 200 South — as well as the Cotton Bottom Inn in Holladay and The Eating Establishment in Park City.

Besides the Burrells’ contribution, the campaign has received pledges of $62,152 from more than 900 donors. Donations are tax deductible.

Some 15,000 people work in Salt Lake City bars and restaurants, the Downtown Alliance estimates. All bars and restaurants have closed their in-house seating after a moratorium on large gatherings. Some have closed altogether, while others have continued to serve customers through delivery or curbside pickup.

— Sean P. Means

10:35 a.m.: Utah prison to release 80 inmates early

Utah prison officials announced Thursday that they will begin releasing some inmates early to make room at their facilities amid the coronaviris pandemic.

The Department of Corrections said it has asked the parole board to release 80 inmates who are already within 90 days of their scheduled release date and have an approved address.

More releases are expected over the next month.

"The [parole] board shares the heightened concerns of advocates, loved ones and corrections professionals for the health and safety of incarcerated and community-based offenders during the current COVID-19 outbreak,” said Dennis Moxon, director of the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole. “Board staff are working closely with UDC to identify incarcerated persons whose early release would not jeopardize their successful completion of evidence-based programming or compromise public safety.”

Prison officials emphasized that those who are being released early already were expected to be going back into the community within the next few months. They expect to begin releasing those prisoners next Thursday.

— Jessica Miller

10 a.m.: Virus leads to deadline extension for ‘gold star’ driver licenses

It turns out that Utah didn’t need the quick action it took recently to replace all its driver licenses to include a special gold star to allow their use as identification at airports.

Utah has been spending millions to ensure that all of them are replaced before Oct. 1 to meet a federal deadline. But because of the coronavirus, the federal government extended the deadline on Thursday by a year to Oct. 1, 2021.

“The federal, state and local response to the spread of the coronavirus here in the United States necessitates a delay in this deadline,” said Chad Wolf, the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

“Our state and local partners are working tirelessly with the administration to flatten the curve and, therefore, we want to remove any impediments to response and recovery efforts,” he said. “States across the country are temporarily closing or restricting access to DMVs. This action will preclude millions of people from applying for and receiving their REAL ID.”

The Utah Legislature, in a special session late in 2018, approved extra money to speed the issuing of licenses with a gold star on the front. This allows officers to see at a glance that Utah reviewed birth certificates or passports to prove license holders are U.S. citizens. Without it, the licenses soon could no longer be used as ID at airports or other federal facilities.

Many of the redesigned licenses have been returned to the state because drivers moved and did not update their addresses. In January, the Utah Driver License Division said more than 76,000 had been returned and was urging residents to check a state website to see if they should have received a replacement license yet. They also were told to update their address if needed.

That website is dld.utah.gov, and residents can check under a tab titled “Gold Star License Check.”

— Lee Davidson

9:30 a.m.: Yelp sets up GoFundMe links to help struggling restaurants and bars

Diners can help struggling Utah restaurants by contributing to GoFundMe campaigns now available on Yelp https://www.yelp.com/.

“Our data shows interest in restaurants… is down 67% and many are hurting,” Yelp’s marketing director, Jeffrey Steadman, said in a news release.

To participate, click the GoFundMe link on the individual restaurant page. Consumers also can donate to the general matching fund to help companies nationwide.

Contributions can go to bars, beauty and fitness companies, and other businesses that have fewer than five locations, he said.

Salt Lake City’s Nomad Eatery is one of the Utah restaurants that has taken advantage of the fundraising effort, said chef-owner Justin Soelberg. “Supporting the people that are here and make this place a home and a vibrant city is super important.”

Soelberg said he had to lay off 10 employees last week because of the restrictions on dine-in eating.

Many other Utah restaurants are participating as well, including Laziz Kitchen, Honest Eatery and Gourmandise bakery.

— Zoi Walker

9:10 a.m.: Liquor stores are “essential” and will stay open in Summit County

Even in conservative Utah, liquor stores are one of Utah’s “essential” services and won’t close if residents are asked to remain in their homes.

On Wednesday, after Summit County issued the state’s first shelter-in-place restrictions, the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control announced in a news release that liquor stores in Park City, Coalville and other parts of the county would not shut down.

"Consistent with the county’s order and at the direction of the state of Utah, DABC stores will remain open on a limited basis,” DABC spokesman Terry Wood said in a news release. “They will practice appropriate social distancing measures to protect the health of customers.”

A limited number of customers are allowed inside each store at a time — the number depends on the size of the outlet. And, at busy times, the system can cause lines to form outside the store.

The DABC has shortened hours at all of its state-run stores, opening at noon and closing at 7 p.m., Wood noted, “for the protection of both customers and employees."

In addition to liquor stores, other essential services in Summit County include health care facilities, banks, hardware shops, utilities, transportation services, farms, post offices and grocery stores.

Restaurants also can continue to offer takeout and delivery, but they must follow the state’s health orders prohibiting dine-in customers.

— Kathy Stephenson