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Live coronavirus updates for Monday, April 27: Lab plans to expand testing; county offers pet food pantry

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sign in a window in Centerville, Wednesday April 22, 2020

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It’s Monday, April 27. We’ll provide the latest coronavirus updates involving Utah throughout the day.

[Read complete coronavirus coverage here.]

9 p.m.: Utah’s ARUP Laboratories plans expanded testing

ARUP Laboratories said Monday it had performed more than 40,000 tests for COVID-19 in Utah in the past six weeks, identifying nearly 55% of the state’s estimated 4,233 confirmed coronavirus cases.

On the heels of a tour of its Salt Lake City facilities by Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, officials with the nonprofit laboratory arm of the University of Utah also said that ARUP’s current capacity to perform 4,500 diagnostic tests for the virus daily will rise to 7,500 a day as it continues to process kits from around the country.

ARUP officials said in a statement the firm is the first clinical lab in the state to offer antibody assays capable of detecting exposure to COVID-19 and it soon expects to be able to do more than 30,000 of those diagnostic tests daily. While supply shortages hampered U.S. testing efforts in the pandemic’s early days, according to physician and ARUP CEO Sherrie L. Perkins, “the perception that COVID-19 tests aren’t available now isn’t true.”

Working with experts at the U.’s School of Medicine, ARUP officials said, they began to develop a diagnostic test for the novel coronavirus well before it was declared a pandemic on March 11 by the World Health Organization. David Hillyard, physician and medical director of ARUP’s Molecular Infectious Diseases Lab, said in the statement ARUP had developed tests “on an accelerated schedule, but did so without skipping a single step.”

Added Julio Delgado, physician, ARUP chief medical officer and director of laboratories: “We know testing, and we’re committed to remain a leading source of all COVID-19-related tests.”

The company said it was participating in several clinical trials for potential coronavirus treatments and would play a role in what it described as a large study planned on the prevalence of coronavirus infection in Utah.

Herbert said in a statement that Utah was “fortunate to be home to one of the nation’s largest medical laboratories performing high-quality COVID-19 testing for patients.”

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8:20 p.m.: Salt Lake County to conduct pet food pantry

Salt Lake County will hold its first-ever food pantry for people with pets this Saturday, extending help to dog and cat owners struggling to feed their animals during the pandemic.

The Pet Crew Pet Pantry will offer an hourlong food pickup on a first-come, first-served basis starting at 9 a.m. Saturday, letting residents in need collect up to two one-gallon bags of packaged dry food for their cats or dogs, depending on the animal’s size and while supplies last.

To maintain social distancing, the event is being held at the east-side drive-thru of Salt Lake County Animal Services offices, at 511 W. 3900 South in Millcreek.

Pickups will be staggered, with residents whose last names start with letters A through M asked to show up before 9:30 a.m. and the rest after. Those gathering in line prior to 9 a.m. Saturday will be asked to leave and traffic won’t be allowed to back up on either 500 West or 3900 South, officials said.

Residents will be asked to display a driver license, then remain in their vehicles while county workers place the food in their trunks. For more information, click here.

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1:40 p.m.: Utah sees ‘very encouraging numbers,’ state epidemiologist says

Utah’s transmission rate of COVID-19 case growth is slowing down and the state appears to be plateauing, state epidemiologist Angela Dunn said Monday.

To keep the new cases low, Dunn said, the state will expand its efforts to track contacts a COVID-19 patient may have had, contacting those who the positive patient had been in contact with a week before the positive test, rather than two days.

"These are very encouraging numbers,” Dunn said, “and in order to keep driving our transmission rate lower, especially as we reopen parts of our economy, we’re working on expanding our contact tracing as well.”

Dunn said the state’s approach of moving incrementally toward reopening businesses is a prudent way to move forward.

“I think that’s the right way to do it, to do this slow rollout … while monitoring for disease, so if we see an increase in cases we increase restrictions again,” Dunn said.

Dunn said the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention and the state still recommend against non-essential travel. Traveling to other states that have higher infection rates would increase the risk of a traveler being exposed.

“Nationally, we’re still in the acceleration phase of this outbreak … so it’s definitely not controlled, so we won’t open up those domestic travel restrictions until we start to see more of a plateau nationally,” she said.

Dunn reiterated warnings from the World Health Organization that having COVID-19 may not mean the patient is immune once he or she recovers.

“There is currently no evidence that any individual does become immune” after getting the disease, Dunn said.

Based on experience in other coronaviruses, she said it is reasonable that there would be some level of immunity, but moving forward “to reopen things based on immunity is still a gamble.”

Dunn said the state is retesting some people who tested negative for influenza in February to see if COVID-19 was in the state earlier than initially thought.

“That is an ongoing investigation we are doing,” she said. Utah’s first official case was reported on Feb. 28.

— Robert Gehrke

1:15 p.m.: Beehive Cheese fundraiser will help the Utah Food Bank, a local dairy and employees

Beehive Cheese Co. has launched an online fundraising campaign that could feed thousands of hungry Utahns, support a small family-owned dairy, and help keep employees at the award-winning creamery on the job.

The goal of Project Promontory is to raise $12,000, the company announced Monday on Facebook. The cash will be used to buy milk, a move that also helps Wadeland Dairy, a family-owned farm in Ogden.

It also will pay employees to make 2,700 pounds of Beehive’s Promontory cheddar, all of which will be donated to the Utah Food Bank.

Beehive Cheese says it won’t make any money on the project but adds the campaign “has the potential to feed 1,350 families or more in northern Utah.”

Since March, production in the creamery has been cut by 75%, due to the economic shutdown that closed restaurants to dine-in service and affected other food service accounts.

Rather than let the cheese it had already made sit on the shelves, Beehive donated about 2,600 pounds of cheese to food pantries.

Now it’s ready to make more. Donate here.

— Kathy Stephenson

12:50 p.m.: NAMI Utah launching free online support groups, mental health seminars

The National Alliance on Mental Illness in Utah is launching free online support groups and mental health seminars for anyone in the state starting in May, the organization announced Monday.

NAMI Utah will also provide 90-minute mental health education workshops every Thursday at 7 p.m. throughout the month. That’s in addition to the support groups. May is Mental Health Awareness Month.

The workshops, which are new to Utah, give information on signs, symptoms, treatments and resources in regards to mental health. “We know there is tremendous need, especially in light of new stressors related to COVID-19,” Robert Wesemann, executive director of NAMI Utah, said in a statement. “We’re learning that people are truly able to find a safe space to share and gain support from one another. It’s a different format, but very effective.”

Those interested in participating in the NAMI Utah offerings must register ahead of time, upon which they’ll receive confidential log-in invitations weekly. Registrations for support groups are at https://form.jotform.com/200846724854158.

The support groups offered will be one for family members of loved ones with mental health conditions (Tuesdays at 7 p.m.) and Connection support groups for adults with mental health conditions (Wednesdays at 12:30 p.m. and 7 p.m.).

— Alex Vejar

12:20 p.m.: No new deaths for a second day

Another 110 Utahns have been diagnosed with COVID-19, the Utah Department of Health announced Monday, but for the second straight day there were no new deaths reported.

The new cases bring the state’s tally to 4,233 since the outbreak began in early March. There have been just four new hospitalizations since Sunday, the lowest increase this month.

The state has also eclipsed 100,000 tests performed. The rate of positive tests has remained fairly steady at a little more than one out of every 25 tests coming back positive.

There have been more than 1,100 new cases confirmed this week, but Gov. Gary Herbert advised businesses last week that, because the rate of growth has been steady and hospitalizations have been flat, he would likely move later this week to relax some restrictions that have forced many businesses to close.

— Robert Gehrke

11:20 a.m.: Second Utah liquor store closes after employee tests positive

The state liquor store at 5056 S. State St. in Murray has been closed after an employee tested positive for the coronavirus.

The employee reported the results this weekend after a family member tested positive for COVID-19, Terry Wood, spokesman for the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, told Fox 13 News.

"It was not [from] a customer coming in,” he said of the contact tracing. “ It wasn’t another [from] employee.”

Murray store employees are now self-isolating and will be tested as well.

The outlet will remain closed until it can be sanitized and appropriate staffing can happen, Wood said.

It is the second state-run liquor store to close since the COVID-19 outbreak began.

The liquor outlet in Moab was shuttered last week after an employee there tested positive for COVID-19.

The DABC said all other employees have tested negative for the virus and the Moab store has been sanitized. But it has yet to reopen because of staffing issues.

— Kathy Stephenson

Editor’s note The Salt Lake Tribune and FOX 13 are content-sharing partners.

11:10 a.m.: Smith’s pickup now available for SNAP recipients

Customers who want to use the pickup services at Smith’s Food & Drug stores can now pay using SNAP — Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, store officials announced Monday.

Pickup services are available at more than 70 Smith’s locations, and the company has waived the usual $4.95 fee on all orders, with no minimum purchase, to encourage customers to use the low-contact option, Aubriana Martindale, corporate affairs manager, said in a news release.

“Through our e-commerce services,” she said, “we remain committed to providing our customers with ways to save more time and maintain physical distancing.”

To place a grocery order, visit Smiths smithsfoodanddrug.com or use the mobile app. At checkout, SNAP/EBT is now a payment option. Electronic Benefit Transfer card customers also can pay for groceries using a mobile point-of-sale system and cover any remaining balance with their debit or credit card.

— Zoi Walker

8:11 a.m.: Utahns having hardest time with social distancing, survey says

If you’re in Utah and think staying away from other people during the coronavirus pandemic is hard, you’re not alone — a new survey finds Utah had a more difficult time with social distancing than any other state.

The study, released Monday by the credit-reporting website WalletHub.com, rated the 50 states and the District of Columbia on how life has changed since coronavirus-related lockdowns were enacted across the country. Utah was rated No. 1 for difficulty of self-isolating.

The survey measured 13 different factors, split into three categories:

• Social environment, weighing such factors as social well-being, changes in nonessential trips to entertainment and hobby-related activities, volunteerism, physical activity, and being active in groups and organizations. Utah ranked first nationwide in this area.

• Time spent on social activities, measuring leisure time spent on socializing and face-to-face communication, sports and recreation, religious activities, volunteering, caring for family members outside the household, and time spent at home. Utah came in second here, behind Tennessee.

• Money spent on social activities, including travel and tourism. Utah ranked 12th in this area.

Among the findings, Utah ranked second in the share of residents who participate in local groups and organizations, second in volunteering, and fourth in being physically active.

After Utah, the top five includes New Hampshire, Montana, Colorado and Alaska. Alabama came in last in the survey, followed by Mississippi, West Virginia, Kentucky and Rhode Island.

— Sean P. Means

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