It’s Wednesday, April 8. We’ll provide the latest coronavirus updates involving Utah throughout the day.
[Read complete coronavirus coverage here.]
8:15 p.m.: SLC creates forms to report violations of stay-at-home, public health orders
The form asks for the complainant’s contact info, as well as the location and date where the incident occurred. Residents can also upload a file — like pictures or video — with documentation of non-compliance. To file a complaint against a business that is not complying with the public health order, residents can call the Salt Lake County Health Department between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. on weekdays at 385-468-4636.
Salt Lake County also has a form for businesses violating its public health order, which forced the closure of gyms and fitness centers, theaters and performance venues, social clubs, swimming pools and more. The county is encouraging anyone who has knowledge of a business in that category that is still operating to file a complaint. The Health Department is also taking complaints against companies that are not able to maintain at least 6 feet of distance between customers and employees at all times and are not considered “essential.”
Essential businesses include grocery stores, pharmacies and gas stations; laundromats and dry cleaners; hotels and motels; mail, shipping and delivery; child care centers; hardware and supply stores and more. Food service can continue under the governor’s orders requiring that no patrons dine-in.
Compliance with the county’s order is mandatory, and violators can be charged with a class B misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine — though Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson has said enforcement will focus on egregious infractions and that most people will receive a warning first. The county’s order lasts until April 13, though Wilson has said she is considering extending that through Memorial Day or longer.
— Taylor Stevens
6:45 p.m.: Tenants advised to be careful about new agreements with landlords
The nonprofit Utah Housing Coalition is advising tenants struggling to make their monthly rent payments to be careful about any agreements they sign with their landlord.
The governor’s moratorium on rental payments allows those impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic to defer rent payments until next month — but it does not outline how landlords and tenants negotiate the terms of those deferred payments, the organization noted in a news release on Wednesday.
As they navigate these conversations, the Housing Coalition encouraged tenants to keep in consistent correspondence with their landlords and to send a letter explaining their economic situation along with proof of lost wages or increased costs.
Renters should work to come to an agreement on how to make payments, the organization said, but should be cautious about signing a payment schedule agreement unless they have already received unemployment benefits or a federal stimulus check. Drafted agreements with landlords are voluntary, the Housing Coalition noted, and tenants should understand the terms and potential drawbacks of signing a lease addendum. Renters have until May 15 to figure out a repayment plan with their landlord, according to the news release. Utah landlords are barred from initiating evictions against those affected by COVID-19 until that date.
The governor’s order applies to tenants who’ve kept up on rent through March 31 and have either lost their jobs or seen pay cuts due to the coronavirus or public orders to contain it; been subjected to a mandatory quarantine in the crisis; or who are actually infected with COVID-19.
— Taylor Stevens
4:45 p.m.: State awards $6.1M in bridge loans for small businesses
The state of Utah announced Wednesday it had awarded a total of $6.1 million in bridge loans for small businesses to help them pay bills as they apply for coronavirus-related aid through the U.S. government.
An official with Gov. Gary Herbert’s Office of Economic Development said that of 1,031 Utah businesses that had successfully applied for the state loans, a total of 500 were notified Wednesday they’d receive cash as part of the program’s first round of requests.
And while those first loans targeted small businesses, applications for a second pool of state cash totaling $4.89 million will be accepted from both small businesses and nonprofits with fewer than 50 employees, an official said.
Those requests will be accepted from April 13 at 8 a.m. and April 16 at noon.
The loans, from what is being called the Utah Leads Together Small Business Bridge program, range from $5,000 to $20,000, with 0% interest for five years and initial payments deferrable for the first 12 month.
Unsuccessful applicants in the first round will automatically have their requests considered in the program’s second round, a GOED spokesman said. And those whose applications were incomplete the first time around can add information to be eligible in the second round.
— Tony Semerad
3:20 p.m.: Utah state parks announce pre-pay system
The Utah Division of Parks and Recreation announced Wednesday that it had created a new online pre-pay system to help visitors limit their interaction with staff at entrance gates during the coronavirus outbreak.
Those purchasing a day-use pass ahead of time will be asked to verify that they are residents of the county where the state park is located and those who are from other areas will be turned away, in line with the governor’s “Stay Safe, Stay Home” directive.
Each state park has links to its online pre-pay option posted on its individual park webpages at statparks.utah.gov. Visitors can either print their receipt or show a digital copy to gate staff at the park in order to get in.
As part of the park division’s coronavirus measures, employees are cleaning high-traffic areas and highly-used materials regularly and are being asked not to report to work if they’re feeling ill, according to the parks website. Visitors are encouraged to maintain social distancing on trails and to avoid congregating at trailheads.
— Taylor Stevens
2:50 p.m.: Silicon Slopes-created testing site has assessed more than 57,000 Utahns
Since launching late last week, testutah.com — a partnership between the Utah government and Silicon Slopes — has screened 57,011 Utahns for COVID-19, according to a news release the tech community organization sent Wednesday.
Through an online assessment and the opening of additional testing facilities, Silicon Slopes has also helped schedule 2,458 tests, sent 1,923 test kits to labs and received a total 1,032 results since April 2.
Multiple Utah technology and health care companies helped develop the site, which asks people questions about their symptoms and can direct them to the nearest testing center. So far, testing centers in Provo and Orem have been erected to take patients referred for testing and more testing sites will follow.
— Taylor Stevens
2:45 p.m.: Utahns to start getting boost in unemployment payments
Money from the massive U.S. government stimulus is beginning to flow and Utah will start adding an extra $600 to its weekly state unemployment checks, Gov. Gary Herbert said Wednesday.
Herbert noted that Utah will be among the first states to begin pushing the federal aid out to its residents.
At least 50,000 Utahns have applied for state jobless benefits in recent weeks. Those job losses initially fell heaviest in the hospitality and entertainment sectors, but have since spread to retail, office staffing and other sectors.
The new stipend is meant as a boost to traditional unemployment benefits, which in Utah’s case, typically replace between 40% and 50% of a worker’s pay prior to when they were idled.
More information is available at jobs.utah.gov/covid19.
State residents who’ve kept their unemployment claims current don’t need to do anything else to start receiving the new federal aid, which will become part of their regular benefits checks, officials said.
And, under the stimulus law, that additional federal cash could conceivably be added to weekly benefits checks through at least the last week of July.
What’s more, the weekly stipend will be doled out retroactively, so Utah residents who already received state checks for the week ending of April 5 will get the extra money in future payouts.
Those retroactive payments could take several weeks to process.
— Tony Semerad
2:25 p.m.: Volunteer campaign offers free shopping and delivery for seniors
University of Utah students have launched a Salt Lake City chapter of Leave It to Us, a volunteer program that provides free grocery shopping and delivery for seniors.
U. senior Ben Haggard is leading the new chapter and looking for more volunteers so it can expand around the state. “We currently have a volunteer as far south as Provo,” he said.
The group also is looking for seniors who need help with grocery shopping and delivery.
“We really want folks who don’t have the support of a community or religious group to reach out,” Haggard said, “because we really want to make sure they are taken care of.”
Seniors can call or email the area coordinator to participate. Details are on the website. Participants pay for the cost of groceries, but the shopping and delivery are free, Haggard said.
The whole process is no contact. Volunteers leave the groceries and receipt on the porch. Leave It to Us completes background checks on volunteers, Haggard said, and has other security measures, so seniors feel safe.
The organization, according to the website, currently has chapters in several states. It was started by Michael Arundel, a Chicago native and junior at the University of Alabama, as a way to give back to his community.
— McKhelyn Jones
2:05 p.m.: State epidemiologist praises the state’s testing, contact tracing
The state of Utah has “done an incredible job” in expanding the state’s capacity for testing for the coronavirus, Angela Dunn, the state epidemiologist, said Wednesday.
Dunn also stressed the importance of “contact tracing,” the ability to follow who infected people have encountered — and noted that Utah has maintained contact tracing even when other states have had to abandon the practice.
The Department of Health reported the number of people tested was up 1,469 people from Tuesday’s figures. That’s well short of the 3,500 to 4,000 the state has vowed to test daily, and far behind the 7,000-a-day goal set by Gov. Gary Herbert.
Dunn also praised plans by Intermountain Healthcare and University of Utah Health for launching clinical trials to see whether the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine will work as a treatment for COVID-19.
The drug, often used to treat the chronic conditions of lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, has been touted by Fox News commentators and President Donald Trump as a possible treatment.
Dunn said the state’s pharmacy board has policies in place to make sure those chronic sufferers, facing the possibility of panic buying, can still get their prescriptions of the drug.
Asked about the predictive models that show the coronavirus outbreak may be peaking in Utah soon, Dunn said health officials tend to “shy away from looking at any one model.” Instead, she said, “we’re just preparing for stopping the spread we see right now.”
— Sean P. Means
1:40 p.m.: Utah is ordering adults coming into the state to sign a ’travel declaration'
Utah is ordering adults traveling through Salt Lake City International Airport or driving into the state to sign a “travel declaration,” Gov. Gary Herbert said Wednesday.
The declaration asks people if they have been tested for COVID-19 within the last two weeks — and if they have suffered symptoms of the disease — Herbert said at his daily news briefing Wednesday.
People signing the declaration also will be asked to list where else they have traveled, Herbert said.
Road travelers will get a text alert when entering the state and asked to fill out a form on a state website, said Carlos Braceras, executive director of Utah Department of Transportation. (An earlier version incorrectly said cars would be pulled over, that is not the case.)
The information from road and air travelers will be sent to a secure database at the Utah Department of Health, to be used to track the spread of the coronavirus, Braceras said.
“We do not see this as an effort to penalize people,” Braceras said, deflecting a question about potential penalties for those who refuse to fill out the travel declaration. “We’re convinced that when we tell people this is the right thing to do, they’re going to do the right thing.”
Herbert said there were several options, up to and including quarantine of incoming travelers.
"We do not anticipate [having] to chase vehicles down,” Braceras said.
St. George’s airport is not part of the state’s “travel declaration” plan yet, but could be as it expands, Braceras added.
Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said the social distancing and travel limits placed in Utah have helped tamp down the spread of COVID-19. But, she added, each traveler is “a new opportunity for the virus to spread.”
As for residents, “we know that not everybody’s following the order,” Mendenhall said, noting that violating Salt Lake County’s health order against large gatherings can draw a class B misdemeanor charge on a first citation.
Officials for the seven counties who have issued such an order, she said, are talking to each other about what enforcement efforts might be taken against those who flagrantly disobey the rules.
Herbert said he spoke to Anthony Fauci, the lead scientific expert on the White House’s coronavirus advisory group, and said Fauci “liked the fact that Utah got on board early” in closing schools and stoping on-site restaurant dining. “He liked the fact that we did not hesitate — we took direct, decisive action early on.”
The governor is urging Utahns to limit travel over the Easter weekend, and issued a reminder to “stay home and stay safe” during the coronavirus pandemic.
“We like to have people stay in their regions,” Herbert said. “The warmer weather is enticing all of us to go outdoors. … I hope we all have the attitude that ‘I’m part of the solution, not part of the problem.’”
Herbert reiterated that nonessential travel is strongly discouraged because of the pandemic. Essential travel, like going to the grocery store or to work, is still allowed.
— Sean P. Means
1:10 p.m.: Utah has 1,846 cases of COVID-19; no new deaths reported
Utah has confirmed 1,846 cases of COVID-19 Wednesday — up 108 from the day before — but no new deaths, the Utah Department of Health reported.
The state said 158 people have been hospitalized because of the coronavirus, 10 more than was reported Tuesday.
UDOH also says 36,116 people have been tested, up 1,469 people from Tuesday’s figures. That’s well short of the 3,500 to 4,000 the state has vowed to test daily, and far behind the 7,000-a-day goal set by Gov. Gary Herbert.
So far, 13 people in Utah have died from COVID-19. No new deaths have been reported since Monday.
— Sean P. Means
12:15 p.m.: Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox praises Utah media, describes possible changes to voting
Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox gave a preview of Utah’s new coronavirus case count as he talked to a civic engagement group online and said there are no new deaths to report.
He said the number of new cases is 108, which would bring the count to 1,846. He said that roughly 1,500 tests were conducted yesterday, still far lower than the state has sought to complete in a given day.
Cox also responded to a question regarding a poll that showed the public has grown distrustful of the news media as they cover the coronavirus pandemic. The utahpolicy.com poll found that half of Utah voters thought the media had overstated the threat of the coronavirus.
“I believe the news media throughout the state has been incredible," Cox said. “They have literally saved lives getting information out to protect the population in the state of Utah.”
Cox said it’s possible that the national media has overstated the threat, but cites another Utah Policy/Y2/KUTV poll that says 94% of Utahns have changed their behavior to curb the spread of the disease.
He also said he was horrified watching voters in Wisconsin stand in line to vote in their primary election Tuesday. “I watched with horror what was happening in Wisconsin. I thought it was just a travesty and huge mistake and something we don’t want to see happen here in Utah.”
Cox touted Utah’s vote-by-mail system that has allowed 90 percent of voters to vote remotely. Davis County is considering a drive-through voting site. He predicted other changes would be made in a special legislative session next week.
Utah officials are considering changing the deadlines for postmarking ballots and potentially allowing ballots to be stored for a period of time before being processed, in order to allow any virus on the ballots to die off, he added.
— Chris Samuels and Robert Gehrke
12:15 p.m.: Sprouts stores will give employees a paid day off on Easter
Sprouts Farmers Market will close all if its stores nationwide — including the five in Utah— on Easter Sunday, so employees can “rest and spend time with loved ones," officials announced this week.
Employees still will be paid, and at holiday rates, for that day. Sprouts has stores in Salt Lake City, Holladay, Murray, South Jordan and Orem.
Employees have been wearing protective masks and gloves during the coronavirus pandemic, officials said, and plexiglass partitions are being installed this week at all registers for additional protection.
— Kathy Stephenson
10:40 a.m.: Study shows a drop in people who paid their rent
A new study finds that the share of apartment dwellers who paid their rent on time for April fell from 81% to 69% in the past month, according to an analysis by the National Multifamily Housing Council.
The decline was not as bad as some had projected.
“It is important to note that a large number of residents met their obligations despite unparalleled circumstances,” said Doug Bibby, president of council, in a statement.
Thousands of renters in Utah and across the U.S. have struggled with a wave of layoffs, furloughs and pay cuts.
Gov. Gary Herbert issued an emergency order April 1 that temporarily halted COVID-19-related evictions statewide and allowed rents to be delayed through May 15 for residents financially hit by the emergency, those quarantined to prevent spreading the virus or those infected.
The Utah Apartment Association and nearly 30 of the state’s largest property management firms have agreed to offer their tenants rent deferrals for April, representing a sizable share of all rental units in the Utah market.
Mortgage holders whose rental properties were purchased with backing from government lenders Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae have also been given forbearance on their loan payments, but only if they forgo evictions and work out rent deferrals with their tenants.
— Tony Semerad
10 a.m.: Mentoring moves online for Big Brothers Big Sisters
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Utah is using virtual meetings to keep children in contact with their mentors during the pandemic.
“Having a Big gives kids an outlet to express how they’re feeling,” Nancy Winemiller-Basinger, president and CEO, said in a statement. “This is a scary time for everyone, so it’s important for visits to continue between Bigs and Littles, even if this means meeting online.”
The organization currently has 99 children waiting for a mentor. Volunteers can apply, interview and be trained virtually. More information can be found at bbbsu.org.
— Becky Jacobs
9 a.m.: Delta Air Lines temporarily will not sell middle seats
Hate sitting in the middle seat on an airplane? Because of COVID-19, Delta Air Lines is eliminating that possibility.
“We are blocking middle seats in Main Cabin, Delta Comfort+ and Delta Premium Select across all flights. When booking your future seat selection via the Fly Delta App or online, middle seats will be shown as unavailable,” it announced Wednesday.
The change will be effective between Monday and May 31.
Delta has provided 73% of flights departing from Salt Lake City International Airport through its hub operations there. However, the airport said Tuesday that passengers there are down by 91%.
Most flights have had few passengers, leaving room for social distancing. Still, the airline announced several steps to help passengers keep their distance, including reducing the possible number of passengers on each flight. It also will board flights 10 passengers at a time.
— Lee Davidson
7:05 a.m.: Real estate company will pay $100,000 to help Utah homeowners and renters
The online real estate platform Homie is committing $100,000 to help Utahns stay in their homes during the COVID-19 outbreak.
The South Jordan-based company announced Wednesday it is launching a fund, in partnership with the United Way, to provide financial assistance for people dealing with financial insecurity and job loss during the pandemic. The Homie Fund will offer help to Utahns facing foreclosure, as well as help with rent, utility bills, food and other necessities.
The fund will be provided through the United Way’s Emergency Assistance and Community Needs Fund.
Homie is starting off with a $10,000 cash donation as seed money, and will commit $500 with every home bought through Homie over the next three months.
The company is also committing $100,000 each in Nevada and Arizona, the other states where it does business.
— Sean P. Means