Live coronavirus updates for Tuesday, April 7: Governor outlines help for businesses; SLC installs automatic pedestrian crossing signs

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) A sign at Los Tapatios advises, "Please keep 6 ft of distance," in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 4, 2020.

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 Tuesday, April 7. We’ll provide the latest coronavirus updates involving Utah throughout the day.

[Read complete coronavirus coverage here.]


5:10 p.m.: Salt Lake City installs no-touch crosswalk sign activation

Salt Lake City is starting a novel way to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus: automatic pedestrian crossing signs that no longer require touching a button to activate them.

Mayor Erin Mendenhall tweeted Tuesday that such warning signs at 70 of the city’s busiest crosswalks now will come on automatically.

The tweet included a placard that will be at the crosswalks that says, “Do not push the button to limit the spread of COVID-19. The pedestrian crossing is now automated.”

The mayor added, “These signs will go up this week throughout the downtown and East Central neighborhoods to help you know you’re at an automatic crosswalk.”

Alex Cragun, a former executive director of the Utah Democratic Party, was an instant fan. He tweeted, “Thank you! Trying to tap a crosswalk button with my elbow while simultaneously holding the leash of my ‘excited-for-everything-at-ground-level’ dog, is surprisingly difficult.”

— Lee Davidson

4:50 p.m.: Jewish group offering food pantry, other services during crisis

Jewish Family Service, a nonprofit organization in Utah since 1872, continues to provide an array of services for those hit hard during this pandemic, Executive Director Ellen Silver said Tuesday.

The Jewish organization’s food pantry at 495 E. 4500 South remains open every day from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. for curbside pickup, Silver wrote in an email.

On top of that, the group offers virtual counseling services, weekly Facebook caregiver support sessions, checkup services for the elderly “to be sure they have food and medication,” she said, phone support to elders living alone, and emergency funds to help with rent and other bills.

Two families from Salt Lake City and Park City are offering to match all donations up to $50,000 “to support JFS Safety Net services,” the site reports. “Almost all of our clients in Park City’s Latinx community have lost their jobs due to this crisis. Many also have no health insurance. … In Salt Lake, there is a community of Israelis who are similarly out of their retail jobs. They are not U.S. citizens and will not receive any help from the U.S. government.”

Donations or pledges must be received by April 30 to qualify.

"These donations were given anonymously, which is the highest form of charity in the Jewish religion," Silver said, but the Safety Net services "are available to everyone in the community."

— Peggy Fletcher Stack

2 p.m.: Labs are a ‘pinch point’ in processing COVID-19 tests, governor says

Gov. Gary Herbert said Tuesday that the state is doing a good job of administering tests for COVID-19 but added there is a “pinch point” with laboratories processing the results.

In Utah, at least 34,647 patients had been tested as of Tuesday, up 1,253 from Monday. That number of new test results is the second-lowest daily count since March 26.

Since then, the state typically had been reporting at least 2,000 new tests a day, and up to almost 3,800 tests in a single day.

State epidemiologist Angela Dunn said the state has the capacity to do 4,000 to 4,500 tests daily, but has not hit that level. She said labs are worried about a shortage of swabs, but did not immediately elaborate on Herbert’s comment that the labs are a “pinch point.”

Dunn said the reason test results were low was because of a lag in negative tests coming in, and a decreased demand for testing over the weekend.

She added that the state isn’t looking at day-to-day numbers, and instead at two-week trends. Utah has consistently had a 5% positive rate as the number of tests administered has increased, she noted, a lower rate of infection than other states. Nationally, the rate has been about 19% positive.

Dunn asked Utahns to continue to follow social distancing practices, to help drive the number of cases down.

Earlier in the Tuesday news conference, the governor said: “I feel very good about where we’re at with our hospitals, our ICU bed space and accommodations there."

And Dunn said the state is getting counts on the number of ventilators available. The decision of whether or not to donate ventilators to the Strategic National Stockpile will be up to the governor and the head of the strategic command, she said.

— Robert Gehrke

1:40 p.m.: Governor outlines help for Utah businesses

Gov. Gary Herbert began a Tuesday news conference wearing a COVID-19 mask, and said the masks have become “a symbol of the times we’re in.”

He then took it off to be heard more clearly. Noting Tuesday is World Health Day, he pointed out the white ribbon he was wearing on his lapel in support of health care professionals. The governor thanked health care workers “on the front lines” of the COVID-19 response.

“We’re very concerned about those who are infected with coronavirus,” Herbert said, "for those families impacted, our hearts break for those who have lost loved ones.”

He then moved to descriptions of assistance programs available to Utah businesses, pointing out that the state is also trying to mitigate an economic crisis.

“People act … like we can only care about one and not the other … when in fact they are both joined together," he said.

He added: “My call to action … is for every Utah business with less than 500 employees that has been impacted" by COVID-19 to apply for the federal aid available.

Derek Miller, president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber and Downtown Alliance and leader of the governor’s economic response task force, urged businesses to apply for Paycheck Protection Program loans. The program authorizes up to $349 billion in forgivable loans to small businesses to pay their employees during the COVID-19 crisis.

Herbert said there are also loans that small businesses can apply for. Businesses can also apply to the Small Business Administration. Applicants can get an automatic grant of up to $10,000 to help address immediate needs.

Herbert noted Utah has had more people apply for unemployment benefits in the last two weeks than all of 2019.

— Robert Gehrke

1 p.m.: Utah has 1,738 cases and no new deaths

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Utah rose less than 4% from Monday to Tuesday, continuing the state’s relatively slow increase in confirmed cases.

Ten more patients had been hospitalized for symptoms of the virus, bringing the total COVID-19 hospitalizations in Utah to 148, according to figures released Tuesday by the Utah Department of Health.

The department reported no new deaths, leaving the death toll at 13.

In Utah, at least 34,647 patients had been tested as of Tuesday, up 1,253 from Monday — less than half the number of new tests reported each of the previous four days.

In fact, the number of new tests reported on Tuesday is the second-lowest daily count since March 26. Since then, the state typically had been reporting at least 2,000 new tests a day, and up to almost 3,800 tests in a single day.

It wasn’t immediately clear why new test results were low on Tuesday. Gov. Gary Herbert has said the state’s goal is to process at least 7,000 tests per day

— Erin Alberty

11:50 a.m.: Summit County extends its stay-at-home order

Summit County’s public health order requiring people to avoid nonessential trips and stay at home has been extended to May 1.

This new date also applies to the county’s order prohibiting dine-in food service and the closure of resorts and some other businesses, as well as an order banning gatherings of more than 10 people.

“We are doing all we can in coordination with our healthcare system to aggressively fight COVID-19 in Summit County and we are making progress,” Rich Bullough, the county’s health director, said in a statement.

“We will continue to look at when and how we can resume regular business operations and day-to-day life as the outlook allows. If we do this too soon, however, we’ll be right back where we started,” Bullough said.

Anyone with questions can call the Summit County Community Concerns Line at 435-333-0050.

Summit County was Utah’s first to issue a stay-at-home order and it was initially set to expire on April 11. The county has been hit harder than most. As of Monday, Summit County had 260 cases and 20 hospitalizations.

— Becky Jacobs

11:45 a.m.: They fix National Guard parachutes, but they may soon make face masks

Utah National Guard parachute riggers practiced sewing face masks from old uniforms Tuesday, to prepare if they were called on to make face coverings for other service members.

Spokeswoman Maj. Jaime Thomas said the riggers normal job is to repair parachutes, but they’re trying their hands at masks after the Department of Defense on Sunday released new guidance that all service members should wear a cloth masks if their jobs put them in places where they cannot maintain six feet of distance from others.

“Utah National Guard, just like everybody else, we are in this together, and just like everybody else, we’re getting creative to how we can protect ourselves,” Thomas said.

In the next few days, Thomas said the guard will find out if they’re getting the material required to make the real masks.

If they get the cloth, the riggers would make anywhere from hundreds to thousands of masks — although they won’t be making enough to outfit the entire 7,500 Utah National Guard force, just those who can’t socially distance, Thomas said.

The Pentagon said Sunday that it would not issue N95 respirators and surgical masks to service members, “as these will be reserved for the appropriate personnel.”

— Paighten Harkins

11:30 a.m.: Free pet food available

Nuzzles & Co. Pet Rescue & Adoption is providing free dog and cat food and cat litter to help pet owners whose income has been hit by coronavirus-related shutdowns.

The food and litter is intended for pets whose owners have been laid off or had their hours cut during the pandemic.

The Summit County-based organization will take its pop-up pet pantry to locations in Salt Lake, Davis, Utah counties; a schedule of dates, times and locations is available at nuzzlesandco.org or on the Nuzzles & Co. Facebook page. Pet owners are asked to stay in their cars when they pull up for assistance.

Nuzzles & Co. will also accept donations of pet food at the same time at the same locations.

Food and litter are available at the Nuzzles & Co. Rescue Ranch at 6466 N Highview Road in Peoa seven days a week.

— Scott D. Pierce

11:25 a.m.: Smith’s will limit customers and cut Easter Sunday shopping hours

Smith’s Food & Drug stores in Utah and across the nation have adopted new “customer-capacity limits” to further encourage social distancing.

Beginning Tuesday, the retailer will limit the number of customers to 50% of each building’s calculated capacity.

For example, the standard building capacity for a grocery store is 1 person per 60 square feet. Under Smith’s new reduced-capacity limits, the number will be 1 person per 120 square feet.

Smith's will begin to monitor the number of customers per square foot in its stores using current technology, which already provides a count of the customers entering and exiting stores.

“By leveraging QueVision, our technology system that uses infrared sensors and predictive analytics, we will be able to more efficiently support our new capacity limits, creating a safer environment for our customers and associates,” said Smith’s President Kenny Kimball.

In addition to customer limits, stores for Kroger, of which Smith’s is a subsidiary, have implemented other measures, including:

• Testing one-way aisles in select markets to determine how effective they are in helping social distancing.

• Temporarily waiving delivery fees for prescriptions.

• Cutting store hours. On Easter Sunday, stores will only be open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Smith’s already is encouraging employees to wear protective face masks and gloves and many stores are mandating employee temperature checks before beginning a shift.

— Kathy Stephenson

11:15 a.m.: Got takeout? Utah educator shows how to pair it with wine

Jim Santangelo, owner and founder of The Wine Academy of Utah, may not be able to teach classes in person these days, but he doesn’t want you to stop learning about food and drinks.

“Frankly, I wasn’t sure how to give to the community during this time,” said the food and wine educator, “so we went online” with the new “Curbside & Wine” course.

During each 20-minute Facebook episode, Santangelo gets takeout from a Salt Lake City restaurant, pairs it with wine from his cellar and explains how and why they go together.

He also shared information on how to donate to the industry during the coronavirus. New episodes post every Wednesday and Friday at 3 p.m.

See a recent episode here.

The academy also has other free online classes — from stocking a home bar to cocktail techniques — for consumers and those in the restaurant and bar industry.

— Kathy Stephenson

11:05 a.m.: Downtown Farmers Market will be much smaller

The fate of the Salt Lake City’s Downtown Farmers Market at Pioneer Park is “still uncertain,” organizers said Tuesday, but if it does go on, it will be pared down significantly, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We will likely have a very limited number of spaces, and those will be prioritized for vendors offering essential goods,” market manager Alison Einerson told vendors in an email. It also is unlikely the market will have its ready-to-eat “Food Fairway,” and vendors who sell art and crafts will not be accepted.

Vendors with mixed products will be allowed on a limited basis — if the main product is their own agricultural product (such as soap made from goat’s milk).

Einerson said Urban Food Connections of Utah, which runs the market, is asking officials to declare Utah’s 20-plus farmers markets “essential public services,” equal to grocery stores and other food retail outlets.

“During this crisis, we believe that it is more important than ever that farmers’ markets continue to safely provide fresh foods to community members that rely on them,” she wrote, “ while also providing essential sales opportunities for farmers.”

The state’s premier summer market, which typically starts in June, attracts thousands of visitors each week. It normally has close to 200 food producers and vendors and 100 artists and craftspeople.

The regulations that normally govern farmers’ markets exist to prevent the spread of infectious diseases, Einerson added “as such farmers’ markets and market vendors are exceptionally well prepared to enact additional precautions.”

Still, the Downtown Farmers Market will initiate additional safety and security measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19:

• No handling of cash.

• Social distancing enforcement.

• Requiring vendors to wear gloves.

• Controlling the number of patrons in attendance.

— Kathy Stephenson

7:47 a.m.: Utah drops to 43rd among states for how it battles the coronavirus

Utah has plummeted in state rankings for how aggressively it handles the coronavirus pandemic, according to an updated study.

Utah ranks 43rd out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia in the study, released Tuesday by the credit-monitoring service WalletHub.

Three weeks ago, Utah ranked 15th in the same study. Two weeks ago, Utah placed 19th.

The study weighs 51 factors, from life expectancy to how many tests for COVID-19 each state has performed. The factors are divided into three main areas:

• Prevention and containment, which takes in everything from COVID-19 testing to which states have closed schools and businesses. Utah ranks 47th in the latest study; it ranked 24th in mid-March. This section is weighted for 75% of the study’s results.

• Risk factors and infrastructure, which measures life expectancy, poverty rates, food insecurity, public health care spending per capita, and other factors. Utah ranks 19th here this week, down from fourth three weeks ago. This section accounts for 20% of the results.

• Economic impact, including what percentage of the population works in jobs heavily affected by closures (such as food services and the arts), and how many work in small businesses. Utah ranks 12th in the latest survey, up from 15th in mid-March. This section represents 5% of the results.

New York ranks No. 1 in the latest survey. The Empire State is the site of the largest COVID-19 death toll in the United States, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo has ordered a near-total lockdown there.

Rounding out the top five are: D.C., Alaska, Hawaii and New Jersey.

On the very bottom of the list is Oklahoma, followed by South Dakota, Nebraska, Alabama and Utah’s neighbor, Wyoming.

One of the factors that explain Utah’s lower standing: 41 states and D.C. have instituted statewide stay-at-home orders. Utah is one of nine states that has not yet enacted such an order for the whole state. There are stay-at-home orders in place in Davis, Morgan, Salt Lake, Summit, Tooele, Wasatch and Weber counties.

— Sean P. Means