Live coronavirus updates for Friday, April 17: Leaders announce plan to reawaken state’s economy beginning May 1; Salt Lake County easing stay-at-home restrictions

(Jeffrey D. Allred | Deseret News via AP Pool) Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, left, and Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, bump elbows after a news conference with legislative, community and business leaders at the Utah State Capitol Friday, April 17, 2020, in Salt Lake City. Utah is aiming to reopen restaurants and gyms and resume elective surgeries in early May under a plan to gradually reopen the economy that has been decimated by the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Herbert said Friday.

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It’s Friday, April 17. We’ll provide the latest coronavirus updates involving Utah throughout the day.

[Read complete coronavirus coverage here.]


4:25 p.m.: Salt Lake County easing up on stay-at-home order

Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson announced Friday that county leaders are ready to ease up on its order that people remain at home while the coronavirus spread in Utah.

Wilson said while they’re not ready for the county to go back to business as usual, it’s no longer necessary for people to stay at home as often. And restaurants, she said, will now be allowed to let people inside to order and pick up food — so long as restaurant workers wear face coverings and people stay 6 feet from one another.

The county’s stay-at-home order has been in place since March 29. Since then, Wilson said county officials have been monitoring the number of positive cases, whether hospitals stabilized, how testing capabilities for those with symptoms have increased and the ability to trace where people have been exposed to the coronavirus.

“We’ve seen success in all of those areas,” she said. “We haven’t seen enough success to go from zero to 100 and lift restrictions fully, but we’re seeing progress.”

Wilson said that as county residents leave their homes, they should take masks and face coverings with them to wear in the grocery store or when passing someone on the trails. Playgrounds continue to be closed, but she encouraged people to recreate — so long as they don’t gather in groups and maintain social distancing.

“We want people to enjoy the outdoors,” she said. “We have to do it with caution.”

But Wilson warned this wasn’t a free-for-all. Sunday dinners with families should still be off limits and social gatherings are a no-go. She said the county is evaluating whether to continue to lift restrictions in the coming weeks, and possibly allowing some businesses, like gyms, to reopen.

Salt Lake County Health Department Executive Director Gary Edwards said that as businesses start considering whether to bring employees back into offices, that they consider staggering shifts and making accommodations for elderly workers who are more at-risk to contract the virus and those with children.

— Jessica Miller

2:35 p.m.: Online ordering now available at The Store in Holladay, Salt Lake City

Online ordering — for curbside pickup or home delivery — is now available from The Store outlets in Holladay and Salt Lake City’s Gateway.

The Utah-based grocer — which carries dozens of locally made products, such as Solstice Spices, Publik Coffee and Salsa del Diablo — has partnered with a national e-commerce company, Mercato, to offer the service.

Customers can get $10 off their first order by using the code STOCKUP. Online shopping in Utah and across the country has skyrocketed amid the coronavirus.

— Kathy Stephenson

2:30 p.m.: Everyone should wear a mask in the grocery store, unions say

Unions that represent workers in Utah grocery stores and food-processing plants want the state to implement stronger safety measures to protect employees — including a mandate that all customers wear masks while shopping.

Locals 99 and 711 of the United Food and Commercial Workers — representing 29,000 workers across Arizona, Nevada and Utah — sent a letter to Gov. Gary Herbert on Friday urging that four safety measures be immediately implemented:

• Provide personal protection equipment, including masks and gloves, to all employees.

• Slow down line speeds at food-processing plants to ensure proper social distancing.

• Require the public wear nonmedical grade masks or facial coverings in grocery stores.

• Issue clear guidance on safety measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 that is endangering food and grocery workers and shoppers.

“We must mandate the wearing of masks by all members of the public, as well as ensure social distancing to avoid crowding within aisles and checkout areas at grocery stores,” the statement said. “We understand these measures may seem challenging, but the threat posed by this pandemic demands new and bolder action.”

UFCW Local 99 President Jim McLaughlin and Local 711 President Michael Gittings said in the joint statement that it also was critical that line speeds at food-processing plants be slowed to ensure a safe distance at all times between workers.

“Workers in grocery stores, pharmacies and food-processing plants are risking everything to ensure our communities can endure this public health crisis,” the UFCW leaders said. “If we don’t act immediately to keep these essential workers and their customers safe, many lives and our food supply will be in grave danger.”

— Kathy Stephenson

2:05 p.m.: Facebook puts a damper on Utah company’s pivot to mask making

Responding to the economic shutdown, Hayden Bryant tried to pivot his business, MCC Apparel. It normally makes men’s suits and tailored clothing at his H.M. Cole store in downtown Salt Lake City and at other retailers.

But after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended people wear protective masks, Bryant put his staff to work sewing masks. The transition, Bryant estimates, kept about 1,000 people working.

He bought ad space on Facebook and they were selling like crazy, some 5,000 a day — until Facebook pulled the plug.

“I was the first to market, I have the best product out there … I made a quick, nimble, agile business decision to keep my people employed. I did all the right things,” Bryant said. And then, “They shut me down like I had pornographic ads.”

Facebook spokesman Daniel Roberts said the decision was in line with company policy regarding the advertising and sale of protective equipment. “While our enforcement isn’t perfect, we adopted this temporary policy to help protect people from scams, misleading medical claims and inflated prices,” Roberts said.

Since the public health emergency was announced, Facebook has pulled millions of ads for masks, sanitizer, disinfectant wipes and test kits, in part to prevent consumer exploitation but also to preserve the protective equipment for medical workers. The company is also participating with the Utah Attorney General’s office in a program designed to prevent price-gouging.

Bryant said he wasn’t gouging anyone — the masks cost less than $10 with free shipping anywhere in the country. He was also frustrated that when he sought an explanation and review of the decision, he was told he had violated policy but the company refused to say what policy.

The experience brought Bryant to an unexpected place, politically speaking. A self-described conservative, he now supports action to break up the tech giants, who he said have created a monopoly and wield far too much power.

He has been in contact with Sen. Mike Lee’s staff and sent information about his situation to Sen. Mitt Romney, as well.

Despite his experience, Bryant said the mask business goes on. He is selling about 10,000 masks a day, distributing them through the retailers who carried his clothing, on his company website (dropletguard.com) and directly to construction companies and other businesses.

“We’re doing fine,” he said. “We’re like the cockroach that won’t die.”

— Robert Gehrke

2 p.m.: Utah sees a surge in coronavirus testing

Amid pleas in recent days for more Utahns to get tested, a record 6,093 test results were announced Friday.

That number reflects new negative test results being reported for the first time from TestUtah.com. That accounts for 3,388 new negative results in the total number of tests.

Now, 55,771 total residents have been tested, up from 49,678 on Thursday.

That also comes amid new, less-restrictive criteria put in place in order to qualify for testing — including just having one symptom. That can be a cough or fever or shortness of breath. The state’s cumulative testing capacity is around 4,500 per day.

— Courtney Tanner

1:55 p.m.: Utah reports two new COVID-19 deaths

Two more Utahns have died from COVID-19, bringing the state’s total to 23 fatalities, the Utah Department of Health announced Friday.

Both were residents of San Juan County, who were hospitalized at the time of their deaths. One was a woman older than 60 with underlying medical conditions. The other was “an older” man under the age of 60, also with pre-existing conditions.

The deaths came as the department announced 122 new positive tests for the disease. The total of cases for the state is now at 2,805.

Additionally, six more people have been hospitalized. The state’s total number of hospitalizations is now at 244, up from 238 people Thursday.

State epidemiologist Angela Dunn did not give a daily briefing on the numbers, as she has nearly every day for weeks. Instead, the datasets were released after the governor held a news conference about re-opening the state.

— Courtney Tanner

1:40 p.m.: Dixie State University will help California with COVID-19 testing

Dixie State University will provide some COVID-19 testing for residents in California.

The southern Utah school is working with Soft Cell Research to provide more tests. It says Utahns will be prioritized, but extra capacity will be used to help Californians who have been significantly impacted by the virus.

Through the partnership, Dixie State and Soft Cell Research hope to provide an additional 4,500 to 10,000 tests per day — in addition to the already existing capacity for 4,500 in Utah.

The testing is expected to run through July, according to a new release from the school.

— Courtney Tanner

1:40 p.m.: Education officials in Shanghai donate 40,000 masks for Utah peers

Education officials in Shanghai, China, have donated 40,000 masks for school officials in Utah to use during the coronavirus pandemic.

The disposable masks, worth about $275,000, will be used by workers who prepare school lunches for students. They will be used primarily by staff in Davis, Iron and Tooele school districts, according to a news release. But they will also be shared across other districts.

Shanghai’s Jiading District is considered the “sister community of learning” to the Utah State Board of Education. As part of that relationship, the Chinese district and the Shanghai Municipal Government made the donation.

The Jiading District has been engaged in the collaborative project with the state board, Utah STEM Action Center and the Davis, Iron and Tooele school districts. The program shares educational best practices and language learning.

Some of the masks also will be delivered to Odyssey House, a Salt Lake City drug treatment and recovery center which has had an outbreak of COVID-19 infections. Deliveries to the Utah health care system are also underway.

Members of the Utah Legislature’s International Relations and Trade Committee, Economic Bridge International, a Utah and Shanghai-based consulting firm, and U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney’s office all played a part in securing the donations.

— Kathy Stephenson and Courtney Tanner

12:43 p.m.: Utah leaders unveil economic reopening plan

Utah aims to relax restrictions brought on by the coronavirus pandemic by May 1, Gov. Gary Herbert said Friday in a Capitol Hill news conference.

By early May, the governor said, he hopes the state’s restaurants can begin sit-down dining, gyms can reopen, and hospitals can start performing elective surgeries.

As of Friday, Utah’s state parks will be open to everyone, Herbert said. The exceptions are a few parks that are closed because of health department orders. He said he also hopes to get Utah’s national parks open “at least to Utahns” soon.

While acknowledging Utah is not out of the woods with COVID-19, Herbert said it is time to start preparing to restart the economy.

“We’ve still got a ways to go, but we’re much further ahead than we thought we’d be at this time," Herbert said, adding that rebuilding the economy will be a gradual process. “This is not a light switch. This is more of a dial."

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert holds up the "Utah Leads Together Plan" while speaking during a press conference with legislative, community, and business leaders at the Utah State Capitol Friday, April 17, 2020, in the Salt Lake City. Utah is aiming to reopen restaurants and gyms and resume elective surgeries in early May under a plan to gradually reopen the economy that has been decimated by the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Herbert said Friday. (Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News, via AP, Pool)

The plan, the governor said, also is flexible for different regions of the state. “We reject the one-size-fits-all mentality that often permeates government,” he said.

Herbert was joined by leaders of the Legislature, the Salt Lake Chamber, a county government official and even a leader of the Relief Society of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But no public health officials were included.

Herbert, however, said he is listening to health experts in enacting this economic plan.

“We don’t want to go too fast, but we don’t want to go too slow, either,” the governor said. "This isn’t just about health care, but it’s about the livelihood of our people, too. … This is about data, good science and good medicine.”

Asked whether local health departments could override the state’s plan, Herbert said, “We’re not trying to set up adversarial relationships.... I don’t expect we’ll have much disagreement.”

Senate President Stuart Adams said the Legislature is giving the governor discretion to override local authority in some instances. “We’ve given the governor the throttle on that,” Adams said.

Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson, who opened the emergency special session of the Legislature on Thursday stating his goal of beginning to reopen the economy on May 1, agreed that it’s time to move to a new phase.

“We’re now in a position to begin that process” of restarting the economy, Wilson said. “We feel we are ready to start taking these important steps.”

The speaker described a color-coded system for assessing the risk of restarting normal life. We have been living in the “red,” high-risk, area, he said, but should move into the “orange,” moderate-risk area in the remaining days of this month and in early May.

Under the “orange” area, Wilson said, some people should be able to start going back to work. Those in at-risk health groups, he said, should still stay home.

Social distancing and other efforts to stem the spread of the virus, Herbert said, has made it easier for Utah to implement the next phase: Starting the economic recovery.

“We aren’t going to relax social distancing, but we will make it sustainable,” Adams said. “We’re going to make it smarter, more functional for businesses.”

Herbert said he was pleased to see that President Donald Trump’s economic recovery agenda, announced Thursday, “very much does mirror what we already have in place.”

Herbert reiterated the points Trump made. “We need to make sure the curve of infection is declining, which it is in Utah,” Herbert said.

State health statistics, though, show that the last two days, Utah actually had seen a spike in cases after several days of decline.

Testing must be boosted, and Herbert said Utah is doing that, though he would like to see even more testing done.

“Masks need to be part of your repertoire,” Herbert said, as he restated the need to maintain social distancing and vigorous hand washing in their daily regimen.

Salt Lake Chamber CEO Derek Miller praised the plan as “a grassroots effort, with real-world guidance from industry across the state.”

Miller said companies “will be diligent in staying safe and protecting their customers, while they open for business.... It is one thing for a business to be open. It is another for a customer to feel comfortable."

— Sean P. Means

12:05 p.m.: Legislature OKs panel to help guide reopening of Utah’s economy

The Utah House gave final approval Friday to a bill that will require a new commission to create a framework for the next step in opening the state’s economy.

The commission — made up of a state health department representative, four members appointed by the governor and four more members, including the chair, appointed by legislative leaders — will have to present its proposed guidelines to Gov. Gary Herbert in a matter of days, by April 22. He will then have to either implement them or explain why he didn’t by month’s end.

SB3004, sponsored by Senate Majority Whip Dan Hemmert, R-Orem, requires the commission to balance the economy with public health and to include “reasonable guidelines” under which health care providers could once again offer elective surgeries and procedures and restaurants could resume normal operations, though perhaps with some modifications.

Meetings of the commission that take place during a public health emergency will not be open to the public.

During debate on the bill, several House members raised concern about the makeup of the commission, the quick timeline for the commission’s work and that their guidelines would step on efforts currently underway by the governor, who has already unveiled a multi-step plan for getting the state out of the coronavirus crisis.

House Majority Whip Mike Schultz, the bill’s house sponsor, said the commission will work “as a unified voice” and that planning for how to open the economy is already underway — this commission will just bolster and increase the speed of those efforts.

Schultz said the governor’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” directive has been “helpful and has been something that’s worked for our state.”

However, he added, "we know this virus is going to be with us for the next six to 24 months and we cannot continue to stay home and stay safe,” he said. “And so we owe it to the citizens of this state to come up with a plan in a responsible way to move forward so that’s what this commission is tasked with doing and that’s their goal.”

As part of the expedited timeline for the commission to complete its plan, House Speaker Brad Wilson said he anticipated making board appointments later Friday.

Proponents of the commission said they’re hearing from constituents that they want Utah to get back to work, particularly in some of the rural areas that have so far seen fewer impacts as a result of COVID-19.

Rep. Lowry Snow, R-St. George, said he thinks the commission’s work will bring Utahns “hope.”

“They can’t visualize yet the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “One of the things this commission will do is provide hopefully hope and a timeline we can all work towards to see ourselves out of this situation.” The bill passed with a 59-15 vote.

— Taylor Stevens

10:05 a.m.: Utah House advances bill on off-label meds

The Utah House signed off on a bill extending legal protections to physicians prescribing off-label or experimental medications to coronavirus patients.

But lawmakers stripped out a provision that would've also sheltered companies contracting with the state to manufacture, distribute or dispense drugs for off-label use.

Rep. Val Peterson, R-Orem, who presented the bill to fellow House members, agreed to this amendment, saying it keeps the legislation tightly focused on the current pandemic. The bill's protections for physicians and other health workers would apply only during a public health crisis.

Two physicians who serve in the Legislature — Reps. Ray Ward and Suzanne Harrison — said the measure, SB3002, contains important protections for health care workers forced to work outside their specialties during the COVID-19 outbreak. However, House Minority Leader Brian King said he believes issues of legal responsibility should be reviewed on a case-by-case basis within the judicial system rather than decided by the Legislature.

“It's almost always a bad idea to step in with a one-size-fits-all approach,” King, D-Salt Lake City, said.

The proposal passed 65-7 and now moves to the Senate, which will consider the House amendments.

— Bethany Rodgers

9:50 a.m.: Utah House votes to speed up unemployment benefits

The Utah House gave final approval Friday to a bill that would eliminate a rule requiring a one-week waiting period before unemployment benefits can kick in if the governor or president has issued a state of emergency or if the federal government has agreed to pay for the benefit.

That means Utahns who apply for unemployment benefits can obtain needed assistance sooner as the coronavirus wears on. More than 106,600 Utahns have reported losing work since March, when the pandemic first arrived in the Beehive State.

Under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, states without a waiting period will receive 100% federal funding for unemployment benefits during that first week.

SB3003 passed the House 73-0.

— Taylor Stevens

9:45 a.m.: Buy lunch for a Utah nurse or doctor

Help provide daily meals to Utah hospital medical personnel through a new fundraiser, sponsored by Utah House staffers.

The workers have created a GoFundMe account with the goal of raising $25,000 for these appreciation lunches.

Staffers are working with the Utah Restaurant Association to provide daily meals from local eateries to as many health care providers treating COVID-19 patients as possible.

As of 10:30 a.m. Friday, 53 people had donated $9,235 to the effort.

The fundraiser helps the community in many ways, said Maxine Turner, founder of Cuisine Unlimited and URA board member. “It helps our food chain of purveyors, it helps our food service small businesses hard hit by the shutdown, and it supports the valiant efforts of our medical teams serving our most critically ill.”

— Zoi Walker

9:40 a.m.: Homeless resource center COVID-19 outbreak

Since the South Salt Lake men’s homeless resource center was turned into a quarantine facility late last week after two clients tested positive for COVID-19, the virus has spread rapidly within the 300-bed center. Of the 205 men tested, 94 have tested positive, Salt Lake County said Friday in a news release.

Those individuals have moved to a county quarantine facility. Those who have tested negative remain at the men’s resource center and are receiving health screenings twice a day.

"The nature of a congregant living facility like a Homeless Resource Center creates unique challenges in the effort to slow the spread of the virus,” the county said in the release. “Social distancing is one of the most effective methods for slowing the spread of COVID-19, but that is especially challenging in a building that houses 300 people.

"All three of the new resource centers in the Salt Lake City area are continuing to do daily screenings for COVID-19 and are focusing on cleaning techniques and hygiene processes to prevent further spread among the homeless population.”

There are two confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the unsheltered homeless population.

Salt Lake County recently created a new street outreach program to help people experiencing homelessness who are camping or staying on the streets as the coronavirus wears on.

— Taylor Stevens

9 a.m.: Utah Senate to consider $80M measure to help farmers, commercial landlords and more

A major COVID-19 relief bill offering a total of $80 million in help for residents, businesses and farmers was scheduled for debate Friday in Utah Senate.

SB3006 sets up several state agencies as conduits for money being pumped into Utah’s economy under the federal $2.3 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

Utah lawmakers meeting in a special session as of Thursday adjourned their first day with the COVID-19 financial relief funding, sponsored by Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, R-South Jordan, temporarily sidetracked on the Senate calendar.

Senators were set to resume floor debate at 2 p.m. Friday.

SB3006 puts $20 million in CARES Act cash toward loans for the state’s farmers and another $40 million into rental-assistance grants to commercial landlords of small businesses, where those business owners can show their bottom lines were harmed by public measures taken to contain the virus.

The bill also steers up to $20 million from CARES toward helping state residents harmed by COVID-19 “to find and retain housing,” through the state Department of Workforce Services.

The state Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Commission will give out $20 million in zero-interest loans of up to $150,000 to farming operations harmed by outbreak-related health decrees. Those loans will be repayable over three years.

The Governor’s Office of Economic Development will oversee the one-time commercial rent-assistance grants totaling $40 million, which will be for up to $10,000 apiece and go to landlords renting to financially hit businesses with no more than 100 workers.

Those grants are scaled in size depending on the tenants’ business losses since Feb. 1 and whether they are also getting money through the Paycheck Protection Program.

— Tony Semerad

8:55 a.m.: Bartenders earn tips by sharing original cocktail recipes

Holystone Distilling is helping Utah mixologists who are out of work with its #atipforatip campaign.

The Murray distillery is sharing original cocktail recipes on Instagram and Facebook along with a way for visitors to tip via Venmo.

Owner Barbie DeShazo launched the campaign two weeks ago, inspired by the bar Cocktail Academy in Los Angeles.

“Bartenders are truly vital to our communities,” she said, “and they are like family to us.”

Bartenders can participate by sending a direct message (via social media) of an original cocktail recipe — using one of Holystone’s spirits — along with a photo of the drink and information about themselves.

— Zoi Walker

8:50 a.m.: Spice Kitchen’s refugee chefs offering meal delivery

The food entrepreneurs at Salt Lake City’s Spice Kitchen Incubator — a program of the International Rescue Committee — are selling ready-to-heat multicultural meals.

All the profits will go to the refugee chefs, most of whom have been disproportionately affected by the spread of COVID-19, officials said in an email.

The community food boxes come in two sizes and price levels: small for one to two people ($80) and large for three to four people ($150).

Orders should be placed before noon on Thursday for home delivery on the following Tuesday between 4 and 6:30 p.m.

Each community food box will include entrees, sides and desserts. Both omnivore and vegetarian options are available. Boxes will change each week and feature new businesses and products. Each box also includes storage, reheating and/or cooking information.

View the menu here.

— Kathy Stephenson