Live coronavirus updates for Thursday, April 23: More state parks opened to visitors from other counties

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Fall color from maples, oak, and aspen paint the hills near at Wasatch Mountain State Park on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2019. Wasatch Mountain State Park was one of the parks that was opened to visitors from other counties on Thursday, April 23, 2020.

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It’s Thursday, April 23. We’ll provide the latest coronavirus updates involving Utah throughout the day.

[Read complete coronavirus coverage here.]


5:25 p.m.: More state parks open to visitors from other counties

Utah residents have more places to hike, play and practice social distancing this weekend after more state parks were opened Thursday to visitors from other counties.

The only state parks that remain off-limits to visitors from other counties are those in Carbon, Emery, Grand and Summit counties. Parks in those counties are closed according to local public-heath orders.

State parks everywhere closed last month to everyone except residents of the county in which they are located as part of Gov. Gary Herbert’s “Stay safe, stay home” directive. Herbert eased those restrictions for several parks Friday. That resulted in a line an hour long Saturday to get into Antelope Island, one of the most popular Utah Division of State Parks and Recreation sites.

Now out-of-county residents will be able to access the Jordanelle State Park, the Wasatch Mountain State Park, the Escalante Petrified Forest State Park and Starvation State Park, among others. A complete list is available at https://stateparks.utah.gov/2020/03/16/covid-19-updates/.

Visitors to the parks are still advised to practice social distancing, including not congregating at trail heads, staying at least six feet apart and keeping facilities clean.

— Julie Jag

5:20 p.m.: GOED giving out $12 million in bridge loans to Utah businesses

A total of 1,139 Utah businesses and nonprofits will get bridge loans from a $12 million fund set up by the Governor’s Office of Economic Development just as the pandemic was hitting.

GOED gave out $6 million in early April in a first round of loans to 501 businesses with 50 workers or less, about a quarter of them off the Wasatch Front. It let nonprofits apply as well for the second round of $6 million.

It announced 638 additional loan awards late Thursday, with a third of them going to rural borrowers and 5% to nonprofits. Vale Hale, GOED’S executive director, said in a statement he’d been “amazed” at the applications and hoped the money helped.

As the COVID-19 emergency loomed and businesses were closing down, GOED retooled $11 million from an unrelated development fund to create the program, named Utah Leads Together in tandem with Gov. Gary Herbert’s wider emergency plan for guiding Utah’s economy through the pandemic.

The zero-interest loans were intended to help struggling borrowers cover expenses until they could draw from what is now at least $680 billion in federal relief to private employers, via the CARES Act and Paycheck Protection Program. The five-year loans ranged from $5,000 to $12,000, with a year of deferred payment.

The Workers Compensation Fund Insurance Foundation contributed another $1 million, bringing GOED’s effort to $12 million.

The first round of cash reached borrowers starting April 3. Funds from round two will be wired electronically by close of business on April 23, GOED said.

— Tony Semerad

5:07 p.m.: PPE drive Friday will benefit the Navajo Nation

The RSL Foundation, along with student volunteers from the University of Utah School of Medicine, on Friday will collect personal protective equipment for donation to the Navajo Nation.

The PPE drive will be held at noon at Rio Tinto Stadium, home of the Real Salt Lake and Utah Royals FC soccer teams whose seasons are postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The foundation will also deliver “1,500 grade level educational kits with solar lanterns for students that live on the reservation in the San Juan School District” with the Heart of America Foundation in conjunction with the drive.

The Navajo Nation has the third-highest coronavirus infection rate in the country. Utah residents and business are encouraged to donate unused surgical masks, cloth masks, safety glasses, face shields, vinyl or sterile gloves, disposable gowns, hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes.

— Alex Vejar

4:56 p.m.: Romney wants CDC to do better job of tracking cases

Sen. Mitt Romney is calling on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to do a better job of tracking COVID-19 cases in real time, arguing the data is essential to prepare for a potential second wave of coronavirus cases later this year.

The Utah Republican joined fellow senator Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., in submitting a letter Thursday to CDC director Robert Redfield urging a quick expansion of the center’s case-tracking capabilities.

Romney and Sinema wrote that as it now stands fewer than 10% of reports allow for a rapid counting of cases. They said governors and President Donald Trump need this information as they consider when to relax restrictions put in place to quell the virus.

As part of a larger coronavirus aid package passed by the Senate on Tuesday, the CDC received an additional $1 billion to modernize public health data.

In their letter, Romney and Sinema also called upon the CDC to protect individual privacy, as they gather data such as:

• Aggregated case information from state and local health departments, physicians, hospitals, labs and coroners

• Rates of hospitalization broken down by underlying health conditions

• Patient treatment regimens associated with each underlying health condition and outcomes

• Rates of intensive care unit admissions, duration of stay, recovery data and mortality

• Demographic information on the patients.

— Julie Jag

4 p.m.: House approves bill to aid struggling restaurants, bars

The Utah Legislature approved legislation Thursday meant to help struggling restaurants and bars weather the economic storm of the coronavirus.

The bill, HB4004, will allow these businesses to defer payment on their $2,000 bar license renewals until the later part of August — 90 days after they would normally be due at the end of May. Restaurants and bars will still have to complete the other parts of the renewal process by the regular renewal date.

Rep. Tim Hawkes, R-Centerville and the bill’s sponsor, noted that these small businesses “have been hit hard” as a result of coronavirus-related closures — and bars in particular, since they don’t have the option of providing carry out or takeout.

This bill “gives them a little more time to get back on their feet” as the economy begins to reopen,” he said.

HB4004 passed unanimously through both the House and the Senate with little debate and now moves to the governor for his signature or veto.

— Taylor Stevens

3:50 p.m.: Survey of restaurant owners shows tough times ahead

While independent restaurant owners are eager to reopen for sit-down dining — which could come as soon as next week — many believe opening up under tight restrictions will not help them recover lost income.

“Of those that can open by May 1, 60% believe they will lose money, and 23% say they believe they will only break even,” according to an informal survey conducted by the Salt Lake Area Restaurant Association.

Executive Director Michele Corigliano said she received 64 responses to a recent questionnaire and will use the data to help inform state officials about what the industry needs to survive the pandemic.

The responses also showed:

• 17% of restaurant employees, on average, worked during the shutdown.

• 41% of original employees will be hired back.

• 23% of owners owe more than $25,000 in past-due bills.

• 41% of owners owe an average of $11,000 in bills.

Loan programs:

• 56% of restaurant owners who applied for the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program loans received funds.

• 29% who applied for Salt Lake City loans received funds.

•16% who applied for loans from the Governor’s Office of Economic Development received funds.

• While 60% of respondents said they could open by May 1, they will need help finding personal protective equipment.

• 32% said they cannot find forehead thermometers to check employees’ temperatures.

• 28% said they have had trouble finding masks for staff.

On the bright side:

• 92% said they have been able to find gloves and sanitizing products.

• And 100% of the respondents have been able to buy toilet paper.

— Kathy Stephenson

3:40 p.m.: SNAP recipients can receive max benefits

Food stamp recipients and those eligible for them can receive additional benefits up to the maximum allowed during the months of April and May, the Utah Department of Workforce Services announced Thursday.

Workforce Services received a waiver from the USDA Food and Nutrition Services to provide extra funds for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients during those months.

The criteria for qualifying for SNAP has not changed.

“There are many Utah families who are caught between reduced hours or unemployment and waiting for other temporary assistance to help them make ends meet until it is safe to return to work,” Jon Pierpont, executive director of Workforce Services, said in a news release. “By making these additional federal funds available to eligible recipients, we can help ensure Utah’s most vulnerable have access to the basic necessity of food during this incredibly difficult time.

”A family of four can receive a maximum of $646 in SNAP assistance. A family of six can receive up to $921 in benefits. A full table of maximum benefits can be found here.

April benefits will be issued Sunday, according to the release. May supplemental payments will be issued on May 31. All supplements should be received no later than June 28. Those who already receive the maximum allotment will not see additional SNAP benefits.

Nearly 74,678 households in Utah receive SNAP aid, or approximately 169,991 residents, half of them children, a DWS spokeswoman said.

This additional food aid is being paid for cash from by the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act, passed on March 14. It’s being passed along to Utahns with special approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

To apply for food assistance, visit jobs.utah.gov/mycase

— Julie Jag, Tony Semerad

2:40 p.m.: Summit County to relax restrictions on food delivery

Summit County is easing some restrictions on food delivery after restaurant owners appealed the county’s public health order prohibiting delivery of any kind.

County health department officials gave eligible restaurants the OK to begin delivering food directly from restaurant to customer. Third-party delivery services like DoorDash, however, remain prohibited.

Restaurants may begin delivery services as early as this week as long as employees continue to follow social distancing guidelines outlined in the county’s public orders.

“It has always been our goal to restore service as soon as it was safely possible to do so,” Summit County Health Deputy Director Phil Bondurant said in a news release. “We anticipate this announcement to be the first of several in the coming weeks that will open additional operations in the county. It is vital that the community continues to practice social distancing and other measures to allow for these openings to stand.”

The restaurateurs' appeals provided solid justification for allowing trained and certified staffers to deliver to shut-ins, seniors and the possibly ill, said Nathan Brooks, the director of environmental health at the Summit County Health Department.

Brooks said establishments that are permitted through the health department need to call the county’s environmental health team and say they would like to participate. They also must briefly describe how they will adhere to the current health orders and practice safe social distancing.

“The health department feels comfortable with this decision and the services it provides in a safe, controlled and permitted fashion,” Brooks said. “The Summit County restaurant community has been great to work with us at this time and the many challenges that have been presented, and we strongly feel this is a step in the correct direction.”

— McKhelyn Jones

2:30 p.m.: Intermountain to expand help to the homeless

Intermountain Healthcare, the state’s largest medical provider, announced Thursday that it would begin working to support Utah’s homeless population as the coronavirus pandemic wears on.

As part of its efforts, the hospital system plans to send a mobile testing unit to homeless resource centers to support testing and to coordinate with county health departments to ensure smooth transition of homeless individuals to isolation and quarantine facilities as needed.

Intermountain will provide two weeks of medication for homeless patients after they are discharged from its hospitals and will provide waiting space and free meals to unsheltered clients while they await results.

Finally, the health care provider said it would deploy nurses and medical assistants to work with the Fourth Street Clinic’s mobile clinic — which has taken the lead on testing people experiencing homelessness — and provide telehealth equipment to the clinic.

“This virus is adding layers of difficulty to the challenges those experiencing homelessness already face,” Mikelle Moore, Intermountain’s senior vice president and chief community health officer, said in a news release. “I am grateful for the many organizations, leaders, caregivers and volunteers who have come together to support the health and well-being of some of our most vulnerable community members.”

All services are being provided without cost, Intermountain said in the release.

People experiencing homelessness are thought to be particularly vulnerable to contracting COVID-19 because of the conditions those seeking shelter face when staying in crowded resource centers and that the shelter-resistant homeless face in encampments.

As of earlier this week, 95 men in the South Salt Lake resource center and three unsheltered homeless had been diagnosed with COVID-19.

— Taylor Stevens

2:25 p.m.: 45 COVID-19 cases in correctional facilities

All of the coronavirus cases in Utah’s correctional facilities have occurred in Salt Lake County, state epidemiologist Angela Dunn said Thursday.

Twenty-seven inmates and 18 staffers have tested positive, Dunn said. She did not identify the facilities.

The Utah Department of Corrections has said there are no cases at its prison in Draper.

Dunn credited the Salt Lake County Health Department with helping contain any outbreaks at the remaining facilities, which would include the county jail, juvenile detention facilities and halfway houses. She said new inmates are isolated for 14 days before being released into the general population.

Inmates also are screened for symptoms every day, Dunn said, and those infected are isolated. Staffers are screened before the start of their shifts, she added, and use personal protective equipment and sanitize during the day.

— Nate Carlisle

2 p.m.: Herbert pressed on minority representation — or lack of it — on business committee

Gov. Gary Herbert’s committee on when to reopen businesses and other venues in the state is comprised of only white people.

When asked Thursday whether racial minorities will be consulted on reopening the state, Herbert replied: “I believe that a rising tide raises all boats on the pond. And so, as the economy recovers, everyone will have a chance to participate in that recovery.”

— Nate Carlisle

1:45 p.m.: Utah’s coronavirus task force gets a multicultural subcommittee

Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday a multicultural subcommittee will join the state’s coronavirus task force.

“These are uncertain and trying times for everybody and probably all Utahns are feeling the pinch,” Herbert said at the state’s daily coronavirus news conference, “but we have found by data that we have some more significant problems in our minority groups.”

He announced two members of the subcommittee: Nubia Peña, director of the Utah Division of Multicultural Affairs, who will lead the panel; and Byron Russell, co-chairman of the Utah Multicultural Commission.

Pena said her office conducted a survey of people living and working in multicultural communities.

“Our findings show that many people in these communities are worried about their basic needs, including food, housing and employment,” Pena said during the news conference.

Pena, who called in from out of state, where she was with family, said survey respondents identified barriers to services and noted there was misinformation about immigration enforcement and the benefits of social distancing.

The Utah Department of Health has reported that racial minorities, especially Latinos and Pacific Islanders, represent a disproportionally high percentage of the state’s COVID-19 cases.

— Nate Carlisle

1 p.m.: 35th Utahn dies from COVID-19; state reports 167 new cases

Another person has died in Utah from the coronavirus, bringing state’s death toll to 35.

The latest fatality is from Salt Lake County, giving it 20 COVID-19 deaths, according to the Utah Department of Health. It later was reported that the fatality was a man over age 60 who was in a long-term care facility.

The state recorded 167 new COVID-19 cases Thursday. That’s an increase of 5% and brings the state’s total to 3,612. Another 13 were hospitalized with symptoms of the virus for a total of 301.

The state also reported another 4,167 tests for the virus. That makes 80,627 who have been tested in Utah.

— Nate Carlisle

10:45 a.m.: The virus hasn’t been found in Utah’s prison

The coronavirus has not been detected in Utah prisons as of Thursday — and there are only been 19 inmates who have received a test.

The Department of Corrections began releasing detailed information this week about who has been tested for the coronavirus and where they are being housed.

There have been eight inmates tested in the Draper prison, and three in Gunnison. Two others who are housed in county jails have been tested. All have come back negative. Six inmates at the Draper prison have been tested and are waiting for results.

Two staffers have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the prison's data.

There have also been 10 people at a halfway house, Bonneville Community Correctional Center, who have tested positive. Officials have tested 47 other offenders who were at that facility who have had negative results. In total, there’ve been 66 tests done in five halfway houses — and the only positive tests have been confined to a single facility.

— Jessica Miller

10:40 a.m.: Legislation would protect businesses from getting sued by COVID-positive people

UPDATED: The Utah Legislature approved a bill Thursday that would make landlords and businesses immune from lawsuits brought forward by people exposed to COVID-19.

The immunity provided in the bill does not apply in cases of willful misconduct, reckless infliction of harm or intentional infliction of harm.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Kirk Cullimore, R-Draper, said he thought it would be difficult for people to bring forward a claim even without the legislation, since they would like face difficulty proving where they actually contracted COVID-19.

But “as business owners know, whether something may or may not prevail in litigation is not necessarily the main economic concern,” he said, noting that businesses can face significant harm as a result of defending themselves against “frivolous” lawsuits.

As the economy begins to reopen, Cullimore said his bill will provide assurances to businesses that they don’t have to worry about such claims.

The legislation faced significant debate in both chambers, as some lawmakers worried it sent the wrong message about social distancing or would disincentivize businesses from taking proper precautions.

Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, argued that the bill was an example of “opportunistic special interest legislation.”

“It gives a get-out-of-liability free card to just about all businesses and professionals for any misconduct connected with COVID-19,” he said. “I just think it’s irresponsible, especially in light of the fact we have no examples … of claims being made against businesses or professionals related to this pandemic.”

Rep. Marc Roberts, R-Salem and the bill’s House sponsor, said he wasn’t aware of any claims made against individuals or businesses based on COVID-19 losses or damages but has heard of businesses “that have received threats to this effect.”

SB3007 passed in the Senate 22-6 and in the House 54-21. It now moves to the governor for his signature or veto.

— Taylor Stevens

10 a.m.: Legislature approves bill requiring the governor to consult on emergency orders

UPDATED: After negotiations with the Governor’s Office, the state Legislature on Thursday passed a relaxed version of a bill that would compel the executive branch to consult with legislative leaders before taking emergency action during a pandemic.

The original proposal — criticized by some for muddying the separation of governmental powers — would’ve required the governor to give lawmakers 48 hours notice before an emergency rule, order, declaration or even statewide directive.

As they continued their all-virtual special session Thursday, lawmakers scaled back the proposal so the governor would only have to notify lawmakers 24 hours ahead of time. They also excluded from the requirement statewide recommendations or directives, which Gov. Gary Herbert has used in recent weeks to urge but not force Utahns to stay at home during the COVID-19 outbreak.

In the House, some lawmakers appeared hesitant to support the amendments over concern that 48 hours was a more appropriate timeline for the part-time legislators to take action, if necessary. House Majority Leader Francis Gibson said he, too, would have preferred the longer timeline but said “24 hours is better than the 15 minutes or after the fact” they have received so far.

If lawmakers tried to push for 48 hours, he said, the likelihood was that the governor would veto the proposal.

The bill, HB3005, does contain an exemption to the 24-hour notice requirement if the governor must act swiftly to prevent imminent loss of life or injury or substantial property damage. It also gives the Legislature power to terminate any of the governor’s emergency orders or declarations with the passage of a joint resolution.

The Alliance for a Better Utah, a left-leaning group, has criticized the bill as a “blatant power grab” on the part of the Legislature, but senators Thursday described it as a commonsense approach encouraging intergovernmental partnership during crisis situations.

And Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, emphasized that his vote in support of the bill was not meant to suggest Herbert has mishandled the coronavirus outbreak in Utah or to “try to flex legislative muscle.”

The measure passed the Senate 27-2 and 66-9 in the House. It now goes to the governor for his signature or veto.

— Bethany Rodgers and Taylor Stevens

7 a.m.: Nearly 20,000 more Utahns file for unemployment

Job losses continued in Utah at a high clip last week, with another 19,751 residents seeking unemployment in the face of the pandemic.

A total of 126,422 state residents have now told the government they’ve been idled as of mid-March, when the coronavirus first began roiling the economy.

Those workers are among 26.4 million Americans laid off, furloughed or faced with pay cuts now since COVID-19 took hold of the country, the U.S. Department of Labor revealed Thursday.

That trend in the Beehive State has slowed since April began and weekly claims leapt above 33,000, but it remains at least three times above peaks hit during the Great Recession.

Total unemployment in Utah probably exceeds 10% of the pre-downturn workforce, dwarfing the state’s jobless rate just a couple of months ago, when it stood at a record low of 2.3%.

But, unique to this pandemic, an estimated 70% or more of workers sidelined by the crisis and social distancing measures have told the state Department of Workforce Services they’ve been temporarily sent home and could be called back to work.

— Tony Semerad