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Even as new numbers released Monday by the Utah Department of Health showed the state’s coronavirus cases had swelled to 806 with four deaths, state leaders and health officials found reasons for optimism.

Just 10% of all cases have no clear source of exposure; Utah’s death count is low; and the state’s cases are not piling up as fast as neighboring states, Utah state epidemiologist Angela Dunn said during a streamed news conference at the state Capitol.

Monday’s increase of 87 cases, added to the 719 cases of COVID-19 reported Sunday, also represents a decline of sorts. It marks a 12% growth rate in cases, the slowest Utah has seen.

That data — which comes amid stay-at-home orders in Summit, Salt Lake and Wasatch counties, as well as a request from the governor that Utahns across the state not leave their homes unless absolutely necessary — suggests that “social distancing is working,” Dunn said.

“By adhering to social distancing, you are allowing our health care providers to provide quality, safe care to those who need it most and you’re keeping precious resources of ICU beds, ventilators and general hospital beds available for those who are going to need that high level of care,” she added, encouraging Utahns to continue keeping their distance.

Gov. Gary Herbert also promised Monday that “help is on the way” for those who have been impacted by the coronavirus, including a new bridge loan program for businesses whose operations have been affected and child care resources available to essential workers while schools are closed.

“This is, again, a stretch of road here that’s pretty rough, but we’re going to see what we need to do to get through that so we can not only survive but continue to grow and come back to a healthy economy situation here by, hopefully, the end of summer,” he said. “And I think that’s very doable and very possible.”

ONE UTAH CHILD CARE PORTAL:
A new one-stop portal unveiled by the state Monday will connect parents who are considered essential employees with child care resources.
The program, One Utah Child Care, will initially serve the Wasatch Front but will expand as needed. Parents who are essential employees can visit jobs.utah.gov to complete an intake form. All of the providers participating in the program follow the social distancing guidelines prescribed by the Department of Health’s Child Care Licensing program.
Nonessential employees who need child care can visit careaboutchildcare.org to find available providers.

But despite their optimistic vision, state leaders acknowledged that they are relying on the continued cooperation of Utahns, and Herbert said the next two weeks will be “critical” in stemming the spread of the virus.

He reminded residents to “stay home, stay safe” and said that while the state has not identified which businesses are “essential,” all companies that are still operational are expected to practice social distancing and employ best hygiene practices.

“Everybody has a role to play; everybody needs to be engaged,” he said. “Everybody needs to recommit themselves to do what they have to, to stay home and stay safe.”

Herbert also acknowledged Monday that the state is, like the rest of the country, still dealing with “the lack of the ability to test everyone." About 2,000 people are getting tested daily in Utah, he said, and health officials hope to get to 7,000 tests a day.

In rural Utah, state epidemiologist Dunn said, there has been even more limited access to COVID-19 testing. But she said the state is working with communities to establish “mobile testing sites” to fill that gap.

“It’s also important to realize that COVID-19 spreads more easily in the urban setting because it is person to person and relies on that close contact in order to spread. We know nationally that the vast majority of counties that have no COVID-19 cases are rural, and I think that’s reflected in our Utah population as well,” she said. “However, we want to make sure there is access to testing, and we’re doing that now.”

Another potential complication for Utah leaders? Even though the current 8% hospitalization rate for patients infected with coronavirus “is small compared to other states,” Dunn anticipated that new cases “will overwhelm our health care system in the coming weeks” if they continue at the same rate.

A new analysis released last week by Christopher Murray, chairman of the Department of Health Metrics Sciences at the University of Washington, anticipates that hospitals around the country soon will face that reality and that the number of deaths will rise sharply as a result.

In Utah, he projects that demand for intensive care beds might surpass supply on April 15 and that the state will reach its peak cases in late April — at which time 1,606 beds would be needed overall and 16 people would die each day. By August, he’s projecting a total of 502 deaths in the Beehive State.

That prognosis assumes the continuation of strong social distancing measures and other protective measures, the data notes.

UTAH LEADS TOGETHER SMALL BUSINESS BRIDGE LOAN:
The state of Utah announced a new bridge loan program Monday for small businesses whose operations have been damaged by the coronavirus pandemic.
Loans ranging from $5,000 to $20,000 are available at zero interest for up to five years to businesses with 50 or fewer employees and payments will be deferred for 12 months, the state Governor’s Office of Economic Development said Monday.
The loans will be drawn from an $8 million pool of money previously used for economic development, officials said, and at least 25% of the funds will be steered toward rural recipients.
Applications will be accepted starting at 8 a.m. Tuesday and will remain open until those funds are used up — although officials at GOED said they would continue to seek additional cash for the program from the Utah Legislature and the federal government. The money is not available to the state’s hard-hit nonprofit organizations, though Val Hale, GOED executive director, said that’s something the state may consider in the future.
For more information on the bridge program, visit coronavirus.utah.gov.