Live coronavirus updates for Tuesday, March 31: Two confirmed cases of COVID-19 at Utah State University; Five Salt Lake City golf courses set to reopen Thursday

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) Medical assistant Lisa Jenkins prepares the equipment for the drive-up COVID-19 evaluation and testing at the University Health Sugar House location, Friday, March 20, 2020.

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It’s Tuesday, March 31. We’ll provide the latest coronavirus updates involving Utah throughout the day.

[Read complete coronavirus coverage here.]


9:22 p.m.: Five Salt Lake City golf courses reopening Thursday

Five of Salt Lake City’s golf courses are set to reopen to the public Thursday.

The Salt Lake City Golf Division made the announcement Tuesday night about the Bonneville, Forest Dale, Glendale, Nibley Park and Rose Park courses.

Driving ranges and course cafes remain closed. Motorized and pull carts and club set rentals are not available. Players are encouraged to use the SLC Golf Mobile App rather than using golf scorecards and pencils. Golf hole cups have been raised or altered so people do not need to touch the flagstick. Players are encouraged to practice social distancing.

— Becky Jacobs

9:15 p.m.: Utah State University announces first two confirmed cases of COVID-19

An employee and a student at Utah State University have tested positive for COVID-19.

The employee has not been on campus for more than 14 days, and the student lives off the Logan campus.

“Both are recovering and isolating at home,” according to USU.

“I know this information may cause our students and employees concern, and I want to reassure you that we are working hard to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our community,” Noelle Cockett, president at USU, said in a statement. “We’ll get through this by treating each other with compassion and doing our part to prevent the spread.”

These are USU’s first two confirmed cases, according to the university.

— Becky Jacobs

7:30 p.m.: Utah Attorney General, others take aim at price gouging

The Utah Attorney General is partnering with KSL Classifieds, Amazon, eBay and Facebook to monitor and combat price gouging related to COVID-19.

The online marketplaces “have removed hundreds of thousands of high-priced offers on in-demand supplies from its stores and millions of products that make unsupported claims about COVID-19. They have also suspended thousands of accounts of sellers who have engaged in price gouging,” according to a news release. The companies will share information with the Division of Consumer Protection and Utah Attorney General’s Office “for potential legal action.”

People can report price gouging by calling 801-530-6601 or 1-800-721-7233, or by visiting dcp.utah.gov.

— Becky Jacobs

4:25 p.m.: Davis County Sheriff’s Office employee tests positive for COVID-19

A Davis County Sheriff’s Office employee has tested positive for COVID-19.

The employee was exposed in the community and experienced symptoms “outside of the workplace,” according to a news release. The sheriff’s office “immediately took steps to safeguard the employee and to mitigate the spread of the virus.”

“Working with Davis County Human Resources and Davis County Health Department, we identified and notified anyone who could have possibly been exposed,” the release states.

A few employees who were determined to have a “moderate risk” for exposure were instructed to stay out of the workplace for 14 days. Employees who were deemed “low risk” will have their symptoms and temperature monitored at least three times a day.

The employee who tested positive for COVID-19 “does not have direct contact with inmates,” and “no inmates, volunteers or others were at any risk for exposure.”

— Becky Jacobs

4 p.m.: North Sevier High creating respirators with 3D printers

North Sevier High School is using its 3D printers to create respirators for first responders during the coronavirus pandemic.

It’s part of a larger outreach effort by many schools, teaming up with similar projects. The high school, located in Salina in central Utah, started making the protective gear over the weekend.

Medical professionals will be able to use the printed plastic pieces as part of their mask filtration system.

“Glad we can even play a small [role] in this fight,” the school wrote in a tweet.

State Superintendent Sydnee Dickson shared the project, adding, “Well done!”

— Courtney Tanner

3:50 p.m.: Utah Pride Festival and Parade postponed until September

The Utah Pride Festival and Parade has been postponed until September 26 and 27 because of COVID-19.

“With all the uncertainty and stress we’re all feeling due to this pandemic, let’s have Pride last all summer long, culminating with the biggest turn out we’ve ever seen at the Pride Festival in September. I think we could all use more love and Pride this year,” Rob Moolman, executive director of Utah Pride Center, said in a statement.

The theme for this year’s celebration is “Love On, Live On.” More information can be found at utahpridecenter.org.

— Becky Jacobs

3:35 p.m.: Utah Orthodox Jewish community offers ’ Seder-to-Go’ kits

Next week, Jews all over the world will celebrate Passover, the early spring holiday commemorating the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt. It includes a seder, or ritualized dinner, with several symbolic items to eat — matzo bread, vegetables, bitter herbs, salt water, eggs and roasted bone.

Everything needs to be kosher, or in other words, done according to Jewish law. Typically, it is a time to gather with extended family and friends to sup together.

This year, coronavirus self-distancing is making that impossible, which means “many are facing the prospect of celebrating Passover alone,” Rabbi Benny Zippel of Chabad Lubavitch of Utah writes in an email release.

This Orthodox Jewish community is offering three types of "Seder-to-Go Kits.”

  • Basic, free to the community due to a donor, includes all food items and a seder guide.

  • Basic, plus a bottle of wine for $18.

  • Dinner, which includes everything in the wine kit, plus a choice of entree items for $50.

The kits are available on a first-come, first-served basis, Zippel writes. His son, Rabbi Avremi Zippel is taking orders at avremi@jewishutah.com.

— Peggy Fletcher Stack

3:30 p.m.: Utah restaurants can repackage and resell foods for 30 days

As part of the state’s COVID-19 response, the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food will allow restaurants to repackage and resell raw and prepackaged foods in their inventories to the public for the next 30 days.

“During these unprecedented times, it is necessary to take steps that provide retailers an opportunity to remain viable and ensure an alternate source for the public to obtain food necessities,” Kelly Pehrson, deputy commissioner, said Tuesday in a news release.

Participating restaurants will have to adhere to all public health regulations administered by their local health department and the state. Those include:

• Separating raw and ready-to-eat foods to prevent cross contamination.

• Selling products directly to consumers, not other businesses.

• Making items available through pickup only. More details are available on the department’s website.

— Kathy Stephenson

3:25 p.m.: Tooele County orders residents to stay at home

Tooele County Health Department issued a public health order Tuesday instructing residents to stay at home to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The order goes into effect at 11:59 p.m. Tuesday and lasts until 11:59 p.m. April 30.

“It is imperative that every individual and family in the county do their part to maintain physical distance from others in the community,” said Jeff Coombs, executive director of the county’s health department, in a statement. “The degree to which community members follow this order will directly determine how well Tooele County weathers this outbreak.”

Residents are prohibited from gathering in groups of more than 10 people and are encouraged to practice social distancing, keeping 6 feet away from others. People should also “refrain from visiting nursing care facilities, assisted living facilities, and retirement homes except to provide critical assistance.”

— Becky Jacobs

3:15 p.m.: University of Utah to study the role of mucus in spreading the coronavirus

University of Utah researchers will study the rule that mucus plays in spreading the coronavirus. That will involved looking at sneezing and coughing and whether some people are “super-spreaders” that have more potent mucus.

“One person may sneeze and transmit it to another person, and another may not, and that is not well understood,” said biomedical engineering assistant professor Jessica R. Kramer.

The school has received a $200,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to fund the research.

— Courtney Tanner

3:10 p.m.: UTA tools available now to plan trips after changes beginning Sunday

The Utah Transit Authority’s new reduced schedule begins on Sunday, but several tools to begin planning rides then are now available.

That includes the agency’s online Trip Planner at https://rideuta.com/Rider-Tools/Trip-Planner. Also available is the @transitapp, which may be downloaded online at https://transitapp.com/download.

And @googlemaps also has trip planning data available.

UTA announced the reductions were coming last Friday, when it said ridership was down then by 65% because of coronavirus restrictions. Bus and trains will come less frequently, although the agency says it is trying to maintain at least some base service along most routes.

UTA also is canceling some commuter-only service where alternatives are available.

“A 15-minute bus route will come every 30 minutes, and 30-minute bus routes will come every 60 minutes,” Eric Callison, UTA manager of service planning, said last week.

“Light rail will move from 15-minute headways all day to 30 minutes," he added, “and commuter rail will move from 30 minutes to 60 minutes on weekdays.”

The Utah Valley Express bus-rapid-transit system in Provo and Orem will move from service every six minutes at peak times to every 15 minutes. UTA will also cancel some fast bus service for commuters where alternative (but slower) local bus service is available.

— Lee Davidson

3 p.m.: It’s OK to shop for groceries this week; you won’t hurt low-income families

A social media post that urges consumers to avoid shopping April 1-3 as a way to help low-income families may be well-meaning, Utah officials say, but it’s untrue.

Because benefits from the Women, Infants and Children program — or WIC — arrive at the first of the month, the post claims, “there will be a surge as these families redeem them. Give these families space to shop and please respect their needs by NOT buying items with a WIC shelf tag.”

“While part of the message is written from a very kind perspective, the information related to shopping in the stores is not exactly right,” said Chris Furner, Utah’s WIC program manager. “While some WIC families may shop early in the month, it is important to know that WIC families have all month long to expend/redeem their food instruments.”

WIC provides supplemental foods to pregnant women, new mothers, infants and children up to age 5. The list of products that can be purchased ranges from fresh produce and low-fat dairy products to eggs, beans, peanut butter, cereal, juice, breads, baby foods and juice as well as cleaning supplies and over-the-counter cold medicines.

Grocery stores also say there’s no need to avoid stores to help those on the WIC program.

“We have set buying limits on the items to assist with these product options being available for customers,” said Smith’s spokeswoman Aubriana Martindale. “We have been able to remove buying limits on milk, breads and eggs because there is enough supply in stores.”

— Kathy Stephenson

2:55 p.m.: After prank call, officer surprises restaurant

The owners of Sumo Steak and Sushi were surprised Monday when a West Valley City police officer came in and paid for a call-in order that was never picked up.

As a prank, someone called in an order for about $100 worth of food from the family-owned restaurant at 2843 S. 5600 West, according to a Facebook post. When the person didn’t come to pick it up, the manager called to remind the person, but the individual had blocked the restaurant’s number.

Not knowing what to do, the owners called the West Valley City Police Department’s nonemergency number and spoke with an “Officer Christiansen,” who said all the eatery could do is start a civil case.

Shortly after the call, Christiansen came in and paid for the order out of pocket.

“I don’t think he knows how grateful we are for this support and care during these times,” the owners wrote on Facebook. “As a local small restaurant, we are struggling right now, and he alone helped us with about half of my daily money coming in right now,”

The West Valley Police Department wrote on Facebook that Christiansen shared the food with other officers on duty.

“In this time, when we are so focused on isolating ourselves from others,” the department wrote, “it’s even more crucial to remember to help others where we can!”

— Zoi Walker

2:50 p.m.: Help restaurant workers by posting your takeout

Want to help support the restaurant industry? Post a picture of your takeout.

Smithfield Foods donated $100,000 last week to CORE: Children of Restaurant Employees, a nonprofit dedicated to helping food and beverage service employees with children. On Tuesday, the company announced that it will donate $5 for every social media post tagged with #TheGreatAmericanTakeout up to $50,000 to CORE.

This is the second Tuesday in a row that Americans can support the food industry by ordering at least one delivery or pickup meal from a restaurant and posting a picture of their food on social media with the hashtag.

Smithfield has owned and operated a hog farm in Beaver County for more than 25 years. Ventura Foods also will donate $5 for every post tagged with #TheGreatAmericanTakeout up to $25,000 to Restaurant Employee Relief Fund.

— Zoi Walker

2:42 p.m.: Utah Arts Festival is off for 2020

One of Utah’s largest summer cultural events, the Utah Arts Festival, is canceled for 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Delaying the festival until the late summer or early fall isn’t as easy as it might seem,” Lisa Sewell, UAF’s executive director, said in a statement issued Tuesday. “There are many moving parts, many people and many factors to consider.”

After much deliberation over the last month, UAF organizers decided that “uncertainty about the availability of artists, vendors, partners and volunteers, as well as the developing situation with the COVID-19 pandemic, raised more concerns than solutions.”

Sewell used the word “postpone” to describe the new plan, to push off this year’s festival, set for June, to June 2021.

The four-day festival draws some 70,000 attendees to Salt Lake City’s Library Square and Washington Square. The event features music, dance and spoken word artists on multiple performance stages — as well as film, food, art and technology, street theater, children’s activities and more than 170 visual artists displaying and selling their works.

UAF aims to “keep the festival vibes alive” through other events once the pandemic, and the efforts to fight it, have passed. Plans will be announced shortly, according to UAF’s statement.

— Sean P. Means

2:28 p.m.: Traffic drops 54% along Wasatch Front

As a sign that most residents are taking seriously the new stricter stay-at-home orders, vehicle traffic on Monday was down by 54% along the Wasatch Front compared to a typical workday.

So traffic is less than half of normal, with no congestion or heavy rush hour traffic in sight.

Monday was the first day that a countywide stay-at-home order with potential criminal penalties took effect in Salt Lake County.

Last week — before such orders in Salt Lake City and county — traffic was down by 30% to 35% on most days, said John Gleason, spokesman for the Utah Department of Transportation.

The traffic numbers are for the entire Wasatch Front, not just Salt Lake County, taken from a couple dozen checkpoints that UDOT set up along major freeways and highways to track how the coronavirus is affecting congestion.

Closures still allow people to travel to jobs in essential industries and allow people to travel to grocery and other stores and drive-through restaurants for food and other necessities.

“While there is still essential work that needs to be done, it’s encouraging to know that so many people are taking this seriously and listening to the recommendations of our public leaders and public health officials,” Gleason said.

The drop in passengers is even more dramatic at Salt Lake City International Airport — down about 82% on Tuesday from typical loads, said spokeswoman Nancy Volmer.

“In the past, this time of year the airport would see on average 20,000 to 25,000 outbound passengers per day and 11,000 connecting. Today, we are seeing under 5,000 passengers per day and 1,500 to 2,000 connecting,” she said.

— Lee Davidson

2 p.m.: Housing advocates urge landlords to give tenants a break

As April 1 nears and many Utahns find themselves in cornonavirus-related financial distress, a top affordable housing advocate is urging tenants to speak up and make arrangements to pay their rents as best they can — and for landlords to be understanding.

Above all, officials with Utah Housing Coalition are telling both landlords and renters to keep calm, communicate and act in good faith.

Said the group’s executive director, Tara Rollins: “We’re all in this together.”

The COVID-19 crisis has hit thousands of renters with layoffs, furloughs and pay cuts. Utah Housing Coalition says all struggling tenants should contact their landlords immediately and be open about their circumstances; make arrangements to pay even a portion of rent due if they can; and to carefully document any payment plans they may negotiate.

“Continue to pay your rental obligation, in full or in part,” Rollins said, “to the best of your ability.”

The group is asking landlords to work with tenants who may need payment deferrals or temporary discounts due to the crisis — and consider waiving or lowering any fees or late-payment penalties.

“It is essential that we get support where it is needed most – to those who are sick and those who have lost their jobs,” Rollins said.

Utah currently has no statewide moratorium on evictions in place, although landlords with rentals purchased with government-backed loans through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are getting relief on their mortgage payments — so long as they don’t evict tenants who can’t pay their rents due to COVID-19. Other borrowers may qualify for similar loan modifications in the emergency, according to the Utah Bankers Association.

— Tony Semerad

12:38 p.m.: Five Utahns have now died from the coronavirus amid 887 confirmed cases

Utah has recorded its fifth death from the coronavirus, and has 887 confirmed cases, the Utah Department of Health announced Tuesday.

The latest death was a Weber County woman under the age of 60, according to a news release from the Weber-Morgan Health Department.

“The individual was a female between the ages of 18 and 60 and had been reported to public health as a positive case through COVID-19 testing conducted last week,” the news release said. “The individual had underlying medical conditions that put [her] at high risk for severe disease and complication from COVID-19. She was previously receiving hospice services for some time.”

State epidemiologist Angela Dunn said the woman Weber County was an “older adult” in a care facility. “And no one else in that care facility has tested positive for COVID-19 yet,” Dunn said.

Confirmed coronavirus cases increased by 10 percent from Monday’s count of 806.

The 73 hospitalizations represented all hospital stays since the pandemic began.

The majority of the cases requiring hospitalization were people 45 years and older. Fifty-seven of the hospitalized patients were in that age group, compared to 13 ages 25-44, according to the state health department. Just three people ages 15-24 were hospitalized in Utah.

Dunn has said Utah’s hospitalization rate is 10 percent — half of what some other states and countries have seen. Tests have so far been administered to 18,513 people in the state.

— Nate Carlisle and Dan Harrie

11:48 a.m.: Liquor store sales shoot up by 32% in two weeks, but restaurant and bar sales plunge 82%

Utah liquor stores have experienced a 32% jump in sales over the past two weeks as consumers social distance at home amid the coronavirus.

During that same time period, though, sales at restaurants and bars have plummeted by 82%.

“There has been a shift in our business,” Sal Petilos, executive director of the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, said Tuesday. The overall change is a 1% increase from the same two-week period in 2019.

Liquor stores are averaging about $1.6 million a day, Petilos told the state liquor commision, during its monthly meeting, which was held via teleconference.

All bars in the state have closed temporarily to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and restaurants are prohibited from offering sit-down service — although they can offer takeout and delivery. State law, however, bars curbside sale of alcohol.

Commission Chairman John T. Nielsen said the seven-member board was sympathetic to the food and beverage industry, which it licenses and regulates.

“We extend our heartfelt concern for the businesses of our community, especially those we regulate,” he says. “Our hearts go out to those of you who are suffering through this.”

The increase in liquor store sales is being accomplished despite shorter hours, he said. “We continue to serve the public as best we can.”

The DABC has shortened hours at all of its state-run stores, opening at noon and closing at 7 p.m., to help protect customers and employees.

Liquor stores are considered “essential” businesses and have not been shut down as cities and counties urge residents to remain in their homes. A limited number of customers are allowed inside each store at a time — the number depends on the size of the outlet. At busy times, the system can cause lines to form outside the store.

Petilos said the magnitude 5.7 earthquake that rocked northern Utah on March 18 also caused problems at the Salt Lake City warehouse that serves as the main distribution hub for the state.

“We had to shut down for a couple of days,” he said, “which resulted in some out of stock in stores.”

Petilos said the agency is still trying to address the empty shelves and praised employees for putting in extra hours to keep things running.“

If it were not for the warehouse staff, consultants and employees,” he said, “it’s likely that the DABC would not be doing business at this point.”

— Kathy Stephenson

11:12 a.m.: Former Utah National Guard boss will lead state’s health department in coronavirus response

Maj. Gen. Jefferson Burton, former head of the Utah National Guard, will be put in charge of the Utah Department of Health as it coordinates the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Gary Herbert announced Tuesday.

UDOH’s current executive director, Dr. Joseph Miner, will remain in that post, Herbert said at a briefing to the news media Tuesday. Miner has been dealing with health issues unrelated to the coronavirus and has been working from home, Herbert said.

Burton, who retired as adjutant general of the Utah National Guard in November, has experience both with the military and with disaster planning and response, Herbert said.

At Tuesday’s briefing, Jess Anderson, the state’s commissioner of public safety, said the state is drawing up a “major disaster declaration” to be sent to President Donald Trump.

The state recorded 4,000 tests for the coronavirus in Utah on Monday, Herbert said — well on the way of the state’s goal of administering 7,000 tests a day.

Herbert is encouraged with news of a new test for the coronavirus, which offers results faster than before. Fifteen machines are en route to Utah, he said.

When asked about the possibility of the state stepping in to help businesses and residents dealing with rent payments, Herbert said, “all things are on the table…. We hope there’s an opportunity for all sides to work together.”

Herbert said he has talked to officials at Utah banks to encourage them to halt foreclosures during the outbreak. He also holds out hope that the federal stimulus package, passed into law last week, will aid businesses and residents in financial straits.

Herbert praised Utahns for pitching in to volunteer around the state. “People are showing great acts of kindness and helping each other. That is the Utah way," he said.

He singled out Utah teachers for adapting to online education as schools were closed this month. “[It’s] something they’ve never been trained for, and they’re doing a great job,” Herbert said.

Herbert repeated his message that “the next two weeks are critical” in battling the coronavirus in Utah — and he doesn’t care if he comes off as repetitive.

“We are very singleminded in our goal to slow down the spread of the COVID-19 virus,” Herbert said at a briefing Tuesday. “We won’t rest until we drive down the transmission rate.”

Herbert urged people to find the latest information on COVID-19 at coronavirus.utah.edu.

10 a.m.: Harmons taking temperatures of its employees before each shift

Harmons Grocery stores announced Tuesday that it will take employee temperatures before the start of each shift to help mitigate exposure to COVID-19.

“Any associate who is determined to have a fever of 100°F or higher will be sent home immediately and instructed to call their health care provider,” Dean Peterson, Harmons president and CEO, said in a news release.

In addition, if employees exhibit symptoms of being ill while at work, they will be sent home immediately. In both cases, associates with whom they have had contact as well as Harmons’ food safety team will be notified.

Harmons continues to environmentally sanitize and inspect stores and food preparation equipment several times each day in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

Weeks ago, officials said, associates were provided with health information from the CDC and were informed to stay home if they were feeling ill.

“This proactive action is being taken to mitigate potential exposure to our customers and other associates,” Peterson said. “We continue to work closely with the Utah Department of Health and are following the guidance set by the CDC.”

— Kathy Stephenson

8:55 a.m.: Lehi Mills closes storefront temporarily

Lehi Mills has temporarily run out of flour and has closed its storefront until more product is available, the Utah-based company announced Tuesday.

“Lehi Mills employees are working as quickly as possible to provide their customers with premium flour products,” company officials said in a news release. “ The mill is expecting to receive a shipment of wheat soon and will let the community know when it is milled and ready for purchase.”

Besides toilet paper, bottled water and sanitizing products, flour is one of the grocery items that shoppers scooped up in mass quantities during the rush to prepare for the coronavirus.

While flour is not available at the historic Lehi mill, 833 E. Main St., consumers will find large 25-pound bags of its flour at most Costco stores in the state, the release states.

A landmark on Lehi’s Main Street since 1906, Lehi Mills was purchased in 2013 by KEB Enterprises. The company purchases wheat from area farmers.

— Kathy Stephenson

8:40 a.m.: SUU graduation will take place in August

Southern Utah University has tentatively rescheduled its graduation ceremonies for Saturday, Aug. 8.

According to a news release, the Cedar City school surveyed members of the class of 2020 and 78% of the 1,245 who responded indicated that late summer was their first choice for a rescheduled commencement.

Specifics are still pending, and SUU emphasized that the Aug. 8 date is tentative, pending developments in the coronavirus pandemic. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was scheduled to be the commencement speaker; there’s no word on if she will speak in August. As previously announced, diplomas will be mailed to graduates in June or July.

— Scott D. Pierce

8:10 a.m.: Study says Utah is well positioned as COVID-19 strikes the economy

Utah can weather the economic damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic better than most states, according to a new study.

Utah placed fifth among states least exposed to coronavirus, in a study by the credit-reporting website WalletHub.

The study measured two broad areas. One was the industries and workforce most affected — a list that includes hospitality industries, arts and entertainment, recreation, retail, extraction industries, education and real estate. The other was the resources each state’s businesses have to cope with the crisis, such as preparedness for the digital economy, share of workers who work from home, and how many workers have access to sick leave.

In terms of the industries affected, Utah ranked 39th among the 50 states and District of Columbia. The study found that Utah ranked 12th nationally for the percentage of the state’s gross domestic product was generated by those “high-impact” industries — but third in the share of employment held by workers in those industries.

Utah fared better in terms of resources, coming in 45th — meaning the state has better resources than 44 other states. Utah had the lowest increase in number of first-time unemployment insurance claims, the study found — and tied for the top in terms of being ready for the digital economy.

Georgia’s economy is least exposed to coronavirus, the study found — with California, Alaska, Oregon and Utah rounding out the top five. Louisiana’s economy was ranked the most exposed, followed by Rhode Island, Nevada, Maine and New Hampshire.

— Sean P. Means