Live coronavirus updates for Monday, April 13: Hundreds of Utah business owners ask state for relief

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) A man riding a bike and wearing a mask in downtown Salt Lake City on Friday, April 10, 2020.

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It’s Monday, April 13. We’ll provide the latest coronavirus updates involving Utah throughout the day.

[Read complete coronavirus coverage here.]


4:20 p.m.: Utah business owners ask state to “fill in the gaps” with relief

Hundreds of independent Utah business owners are begging state leaders for more financial relief as they grapple with a loss of commerce due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In a letter sent Monday to Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, Senate President J. Stuart Adams and House Speaker Brad Wilson, about 300 business owners and their supporters called for more state aid to “fill in any gaps” in COVID-19 relief packages offered by the federal government. Thousands of Utah businesses whose incomes have dried up in the crisis and social distancing steps meant to contain it are now applying for some of the nearly $350 billion in Small Business Administration loans made available through the $2.2 trillion federal stimulus.

But small business owners note those programs have seen a slow and chaotic launch since the stimulus passed and already have large backlogs of applicants — while many owners can survive only another two to three more weeks without some kind of cash coming in.

“Many locally owned, neighborhood businesses simply don’t have the cash reserves to weather a month-long shutdown,” said Doug Burton, president of the Utah Independent Business Coalition.In their open letter, they’re calling on state legislators planning to convene a special session in the coming days to offer new state grants for businesses, defer sales tax obligations and open other forms of financial aid, possibly by tapping some of the state’s rainy day accounts.

State officials, meanwhile, announced again on Monday that nearly $4.89 million will be awarded to businesses and nonprofits applying this week for a series of bridge loans offered through the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. Loans under that program — made in sums of between $5,000 and $20,000, with 0% interest for five years and initial payments deferrable for the first 12 month — are available to both small businesses and nonprofits with fewer than 50 employees, according to GOED.

The state has already given out $6.1 million in loans through the program. New applications are being accepted from Monday through Thursday at noon. Find more information at http://coronavirus.utah.gov.

— Tony Semerad

4:05 p.m.: Salt Lake Community College postpones tuition hike, waives online fees

Salt Lake Community College has postponed its planned 1.5% tuition hike until spring because of the coronavirus outbreak. The school announced the move late last week, saying it is focused on helping students graduate and “keeping education affordable.”

The tuition increase had been approved by the Utah Board of Regents last month. The University of Utah and Utah Valley University are also delaying their annual hikes. And SLCC, too, will waive the online course fee for all classes this summer, which will continue to be held remotely.

— Courtney Tanner

2:25 p.m.: One-way aisles at Harmons

One-way shopping aisles have been launched at Harmons Grocery stores in Utah as a way to help customers keep their physical distance while getting supplies.

Red-arrow-shaped decals — pointing in the direction traffic should flow — were placed on the floors at all 19 Harmons stores last week, said Lindee Nance, vice president of marketing.

Additionally, the doors leading into and out of each store also are one way, she said. The only exceptions are at the company’s smaller stores at City Creek, Emigration and Holladay because they have single doors.

Smith’s Food & Drug is piloting one-way aisles in its Saratoga Springs and North Ogden stores “to determine [their] effectiveness” in physical distancing.

Both Smith’s and Harmons have placed similar floor decals near cash registers to help keep customers 6 feet apart while waiting to check out.

— Kathy Stephenson

2:15 p.m.: San Juan Public Health director thanks residents for following COVID-19 guidelines

San Juan Public Health Director Kirk Benge released a letter to San Juan County residents on Monday thanking them for working to comply with health guidelines designed to slow the spread of coronavirus.

“Our primary goal throughout this event has been to prevent our community hospitals from being overrun,” Benge said. “All of our actions have been aimed to ensure that our local doctors aren’t put in a position of choosing who gets a respirator and who goes without during a crisis.”

Benge acknowledged the “immense stress and financial sacrifice” community members have endured over the last month, particularly the small businesses that shut down or reduced hours. Hotels throughout the county have closed, and the restaurants that remain open have been restricted to take-out orders. Camping is closed to non-residents.

As of Monday, San Juan had nine confirmed cases of COVID-19 at least six of which were located near the Utah-Arizona border on the Navajo Nation, which has been particularly hard hit from the pandemic. Two people in the county had been hospitalized, according to the state’s official website, and it’s possible two coronavirus-linked deaths that have not yet been counted due to a lack of street addresses on certain parts of the Navajo Nation.

Benge said so far the county has avoided a crisis but warned against residents letting their guard down too quickly. “In the coming weeks, as we look toward the future and create a plan to try to return to normal life,” he said, “I ask for your continued support, perseverance, and dedication to protect each other.”

— Zak Podmore

2 p.m.: Utah has turned off wireless alerts for those enter the state

Road travelers won’t be getting text messages from the state of Utah any more.

“We have turned off the alert,” said Joe Dougherty, spokesman for the Utah Division of Emergency Management. “It has been canceled.”

The system, targeting cellphone towers near the borders, “didn’t work exactly as we hoped,” Dougherty said. Many people received multiple texts in their homes, even their bathrooms, far from the border, he said.

“Some people clearly got an annoying number of messages,” Dougherty said. “A couple people reported getting 30 messages.”

The state learned that “these alerts will alert [people] much farther than they intended,” Dougherty said, adding that the division apologizes to people in counties across the Utah state who received the alerts.

More than 10,000 people went online to fill out the survey, he said.

The state will still ask travelers, via highway readerboards, to fill out the online survey that sought data on whether visitors to Utah had symptoms of COVID-19.

The state also will continue to distribute post cards to travelers coming into Salt Lake City International Airport. Those post cards include a QR code, which can be used to access the online survey.

Because the alert was sent broadly, through cellphone towers, the state did not collect data on how many people received the alerts, Dougherty said.

“This technology is alive and well, in case we have to issue Amber alerts,” Dougherty said, though there are no plans now to use it like this again.

As he was speaking, some Salt Lake County residents received a text alert. At 2:01 p.m. Monday, the Salt Lake County Emergency Management office sent the alert, with a reminder to county residents that Mayor Jenny Wilson’s stay-at-home order has been extended through May 1.

The alert went out today, said Tina Brown, the office’s spokeswoman, because today would have been the day that Wilson’s original order expired.

“We’ve also been receiving a lot of requests to send an alert since we’re hearing there’s a large majority of people who are not getting any information about the stay-home order,” Brown said in an email.

— Sean P. Means

1:35 p.m.: 218 Utahns have recovered from COVID-19, state announces

Utah health officials now have a definition for who has “recovered” from the coronavirus, state epidemiologist Angela Dunn said Monday.

“We basically turn the clock back three weeks,” Dunn said. If a person started suffering symptoms of COVID-19 three weeks ago, and hasn’t died, then the state considers them recovered, she said.

So far, based on that metric, 218 people in Utah can be considered recovered.

Dunn stressed that health officials “really need people to get tested for COVID-19 throughout the state of Utah.”

“We have seen this decrease in demand for testing,” Dunn said, adding that the state has more testing sites — and has lowered the criteria for who should get tested.

The state is asking anyone who has experienced one of six symptoms to get tested: Cough, fever, shortness of breath, sore throat, muscle aches and loss of taste or smell.

When asked about reports of people being turned away from getting tested, Dunn said the state is working with health care facilities, “ensuring that they’re using expanded criteria.”

Dunn declined to be specific about when stay-at-home recommendations might be lifted. “We’re going to let data really drive our decisions,” Dunn said. Among the metrics, she said, is “an increase in the number of cases we’re seeing week to week. … We’re also looking at how people got the disease.”

Evidence has shown some spread of the coronavirus happens before people show symptoms of COVID-19, Dunn said. That’s why testing is so important, she said. “We really need to understand who in our community has even the mildest of symptoms,” she said.

After Dunn finished speaking at Monday’s news conference, Val Hale, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, said more than 500 small businesses have been approved for $6.1 million in bridge loans from the state of Utah.

Most of the checks went out last week, Hale said, and the rest will be sent this week. Those loans are the first round being offered. Applications for the second round will be accepted now through Thursday at noon.

The second round will give out $5.9 million. Of that, $4.9 is coming from state coffers, and $1 million from a donation from the Workers Compensation Fund. The second round will be allowing nonprofit organizations to apply.

Hale said he sympathizes with businesses that didn’t qualify for loans in the first round. “We simply don’t have sufficient funding to fund all the businesses,” Hale said, adding that those rejected in round one will automatically be submitted for round two.

— Sean P. Means

1 p.m.: Utah reports 60 new cases; no new deaths

Sixty new cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Utah as of Monday, the Utah Department of Health reported — bringing the statewide tally to 2,363.

No new deaths were reported Monday, and the death toll for Utah remains at 18 people. UDOH reports that, as of Monday, 201 people have been hospitalized because of COVID-19. That’s six more than what was reported the day before.

This is the fourth day in a row that Utah has reported fewer new confirmed cases than the day before. On Sunday, 97 cases were reported.

Nearly of half the hospitalizations, 98, and total cases, 1,157, are in Salt Lake County. That’s 31 new cases in the county overnight, and three more people hospitalized.

Monday’s report shows 45,787 people have been tested for the virus in Utah. That’s up from 44,234 in Sunday’s tally, or 1,553 tests. The number tested remains far below the state’s capacity, despite the less-strict requirements now in place.

— Sean P. Means

12:30 p.m.: LDS Church postpones youth conferences for a year

The debut of the For the Strength of Youth conferences for young people in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will have to wait a year.

The Utah-based faith announced Monday that the FSY gatherings scheduled in the U.S. and Canada in 2020 have been pushed back due to the pandemic.

These conferences are part of the new Children and Youth program and are modeled after Brigham Young University’s popular “Especially for Youth” gatherings.

Monday’s release included a link to an updated schedule of FSY conferences to be held in the U.S. and Canada in 2021–23.

All participant payments for registration fees will be refunded on or before April 30, the release stated.

“Outside of the U.S. and Canada,” it added, “area presidencies will provide guidance on whether FSY conferences will be held.”

— David Noyce

12:15 p.m.: Salt lake County leases a hotel to help the homeless

Salt Lake County announced Monday that it is leasing a hotel to house roughly 130 asymptomatic people experiencing homelessness in an effort to “allow for better social distancing” within the area’s three new homeless resource centers.

Those who will stay in the hotel are either over the age of 60 or have underlying health issues and are “the most vulnerable of the vulnerable within our homeless community,” Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson said in a statement.

Salt Lake County will lease the hotel for at least two weeks and has an option to extend, according to the news release. The county declined to release the name or location of the hotel “to protect the privacy of those staying there,” though Wilson said she appreciated the operator for working with the county.

Case managers and security will be on site and clients will have access to behavioral health support.

Clients began to move in Friday, the same day Salt Lake County announced that a second man had been diagnosed with COVID-19 at the South Salt Lake men’s homeless resource center.

That brought the total number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the homeless community to four: two in the unsheltered population and two at that resource center. A spokeswoman said there were no new coronavirus cases among people experiencing homelessness as of Monday.

The 300-bed South Salt Lake shelter, operated by The Road Home, is not currently accepting new clients and all those at the shelter are staying there under quarantine to be monitored and tested by health department officials.

— Taylor Stevens

12 p.m.: Salt Lake City considering turning some streets over to pedestrians and bicyclists

Salt Lake City may close some streets to vehicles, to give people on foot and bicycles room to recreate at a safe distance during the coronavirus pandemic.

Any closures would be temporary, and people who live and work on those streets would still have local vehicular access, according to a notice on the city’s transportation department’s website. Factors such as traffic patterns, transit routes and hospital and emergency routes also will be considered.

“There are multiple streets in Salt Lake City that could be converted into physically distancing-friendly places for people to get outside for activities like walking, running and biking,” the notice said.

No streets have been designated yet for closure to vehicular traffic. City transportation officials are conducting an online survey, to learn which streets residents would want to see blocked off for foot and pedal-powered traffic.

— Sean P. Means