Live coronavirus updates for Tuesday, April 28: Four more die; custom meat plants to help process livestock

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) First responders do a drive by the University of Utah Hospital, Primary Children's and IMED in Salt Lake City on Monday, April 27, 2020, as caregivers come outside to exchange thanks in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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It’s Tuesday, April 28. We’ll provide the latest coronavirus updates involving Utah throughout the day.

[Read complete coronavirus coverage here.]


5:50 p.m.: Private companies will help the state process excess livestock for commercial sale

The Utah Department of Agriculture and Food has asked custom meat plants in the state to help farms and ranches reduce the large numbers of livestock waiting to be slaughtered and processed.

“We have invited the 10 qualifying custom-exempt slaughter establishments in Utah to come under official inspection by UDAF, which will allow them to handle animals that are intended for commercial sale,” Agricultural Commissioner Logan Wilde, said in a news release.

Custom-exempt plants typically only slaughter animals for private individuals for noncommercial use, Wilde said in the statement. If all the custom-exempt plants take part in this program, it could boost Utah’s processing capacity by at least 10%.

While animal-processing backlogs are not nearly as serious in Utah as other parts of the country, many of inspected facilities have cut back their hours to limit employee exposure to COVID-19. Fewer animals are being processed, which is starting to result in a lack of feed and land for the stockpile of livestock.

“By taking this unprecedented step,” Wilde said. “we are trying to avoid having animals euthanized and not processed for meat, which is what is happening in some parts of the country.”

Meat processed by the custom-exempt facilities temporarily under state inspection can be sold only in Utah. However, the meat can be sold to grocery stores, restaurants or directly to end users, which may also alleviate potential meat shortages.

— Kathy Stephenson

4:45 p.m.: Days of ′47 celebrations postponed until 2021

Utah’s annual Days of ’47 Pioneer Day celebrations in July have been postponed until 2021 due to complications from the pandemic.

In the latest blow to cultural normalcy in the Beehive State, Days of ’47 board president Lane Summerhays said Tuesday the decision to delay the yearly parade, rodeo, dinners, pageants and related celebrations “was not taken lightly” and reflected public health guidelines from state officials and Salt Lake County.

Although Days of ’47 board trustees acknowledged the coronavirus outbreak and efforts to contain it could change between now and July, preparations now for the event required large gatherings, including those building parade floats, they noted.

“A deadline had to be imposed, and the decision had to be made now,” trustees said in a joint statement, reportedly after meeting early Tuesday online.

The Days of ’47 centerpiece parade through downtown Salt Lake City was first held in 1859 and the annual summer celebrations usually draw huge crowds and participation from thousands of LDS Church wards and stakes, community organizations, business and other groups across Utah.

Board members said they wanted to assure the public that plans will proceed for all Days of ’47 events next year “hopefully in ways that will amply compensate for this year’s loss.”

— Tony Semerad

2:40 p.m.: Utahns buying fewer bottles of alcohol but spending more

While fewer bottles of alcohol were sold in March, shoppers at Utah’s state-run liquor stores helped temper potential revenue losses by spending more per container than usual.

Bottle sales for the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control were down nearly 480,000 from March 2019, DABC finance director Man Diep told the state liquor commission Tuesday. Year-to-date bottle sales are down more than 1.1 million or 2.95%.

Bars and restaurants across the state have been closed to dine-in service since mid-March to encourage social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic. State state law forbids the sale of alcohol via pickup or delivery — although customers can go inside some bars, breweries and distilleries to make a purchase.

On March 18, liquor stores along the Wasatch Front closed for the day due to a magnitude 5.7 earthquake. Overall, retail alcohol sales were still up nearly 5% over the same month in 2019. That’s because foot traffic at liquor stores has jumped about 7%, officials said.

And Utahns who did make purchases spent more than normal as they followed stay-at-home directives from Gov. Gary Herbert and area health departments. The average price per bottle last month was $11.53. That’s up 8% from the same month last year, when the average spent was $9.28 per bottle.

Still, DABC Executive Director Sal Petilos is preparing for the worst when April’s numbers are tallied.

“In April, we will see the full impact of the closures that have occurred with licensees,” he said, noting that bars and restaurants that serve alcohol make up about 20% of state alcohol revenues.

“When the data is finalized,” he warned the commission, “we will see a reduction.”

In the past week, there has been more bad news for the department. It had to shut down two liquor stores after employees tested positive for the COVID-19. The Moab outlet, which closed last Thursday, has been sanitized and will reopen Wednesday. The Murray store shut down Monday. Officials have not said when it might reopen.

The DABC had already seen alcohol sales slow after a new state law kicked in Nov. 1 that all allows beer up to 5% alcohol by volume to be sold in grocery and convenience stores. About 100 beers that were previously sold in liquor stores — and were top sellers in the state — moved into the retail outlets.

The effect on DABC profits was immediate. In December, beer sales at state-run stores fell 43% from the same time the previous year. Those losses have been tempered by higher sales of wine and spirits, which for several years have grown by almost 6% annually.

— Kathy Stephenson

1:45 p.m.: Utah is moving to a lower risk level, Gov. Gary Herbert says

The capacity Utah has built in the past six weeks to deal with the coronavirus has been “pretty remarkable,” Gov. Gary Herbert said at a Tuesday news conference — announcing the state will move from a red “high risk” level to an orange or moderate risk level on Friday.

The color levels are part of Herbert’s Utah Leads Together 2.0 Plan. The red level means there is a high risk of COVID-19 for everyone, while orange means there’s a moderate risk for everyone, and a high risk for those who are vulnerable to the virus.

“This is not going back to business as usual. We are not at that point yet,” Herbert said. But it opens up some more “economic opportunity,” he said.

Utahns can now gather in groups of 20 people or less, up from the 10-person limit previously in place. But “those who are vulnerable” should still practice “extreme caution,” as these changes are made, Herbert said.

The changes are being made after an analysis of data and recommendations from health experts, Herbert said. Utahns still need to “continue doing what we’ve been doing," the governor said, including:

  • Staying 6 feet away from others and continuing to practice social distancing.

  • Wearing a face mask whenever possible. Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox described a state new project to get “A Mask for Every Utahn” that will supply two million masks to state residents.

  • Staying home as much as possible. Shopping is “opened up,” he said, but the state hopes people will still “shop infrequently,” once a week rather than three, Herbert said.

While people should stay home, “we are not restricting travel as we were before,” Herbert said. People should still limit travel out of state and quarantine for 14 days after returning from a high-risk area, he said.

He also urged Utahns to wear masks, saying one of his “pet peeves” is people’s reluctance to do so. “As Tonto said to the Lone Ranger, never take off the mask,” the governor said.

People can order a mask from the “A Mask for Every Utahn” project through coronavirus.utah.gov/mask, Cox said. Funding for the masks is provided through the CARES Act, he said, and the masks are being produced by Utah companies.

Residents should not request a mask if they already have access to one, Cox said. Only one order is allowed per household, with six masks per order. Orders could take three weeks to be fulfilled.

The masks are high quality and can last months, or even years, the lieutenant governor said, but there is a limited quantity. Officials are working on getting masks to “underserved populations,” Cox said.

Cox thanked Utah companies who are helping produce these masks, including Coleman Knitting Mills, Blacksmith International, Morris Quilting, Uinta Mattress and others. Anyone who wants to help with that partnership should contact masks@utah.gov.

Other points related to the change in the state’s risk level:

• Schools remain closed. Playground equipment remains off limits.

• Some businesses, including gyms and salons, can reopen, Herbert said.

• Lake Powell also may open this week.

• People are still encouraged to order carryout and delivery from restaurants. But dine-in services can now also be available if restaurants "follow appropriate protocol.” This includes keeping tables and restaurants six feet apart. Restaurant employees should also wear masks, the governor said.

If certain parts of the state are still showing hotspots of infections and are hesitant about from moving from red to orange along with the state, local government and health officials can work with the state health department to be able to vary from the state directive, Herbert said.

Areas that are not as hard hit could also use this process to try to move to the yellow level of the state’s plan, he said.

As Utah moves into this “stabilization” stage, the hope is to move a “recovery” stage in the future, Herbert said. “We can continue this trend in the right direction” as Utah starts to reopen, he said.

Utah is seeing a flattening of its curve, and “a slow reopening is a good idea,” state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn said. People should still social distance, wear masks and stay home, she echoed Herbert.

And nothing is changing for vulnerable populations as Utah starts to reopen, Herbert said. They remain at high risk.

Before announcing the changes, the governor noted Utah now has the ability to test 6,000 people per day and for labs to process 9,000 tests per day. "We’ve talked about testing ad nauseam,“ he said, but added, “we’re not reaching that” capacity.

Utah has set up 62 different testing sites throughout the state and has done about 102,000 tests for COVID-19. There are also three mobile test collection sites, with one deployed at the Navajo Nation.

Anyone who has any symptoms of COVID-19 should get tested, Dunn said. It’s still unclear if people can develop immunity from COVID-19, or if they do, for how long. Dunn said they are still looking into that information.

Only about 70% of intensive care unit beds are being used in Utah right now, and that’s part of why the state can resume elective surgeries, he said.

The state also has five million KN95 masks, four million gowns and half a million face shields. Utah’s personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies are “growing dramatically,” he said.

Herbert said Utah’s $800,000 purchase of malaria drugs — hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine — is still under review, and he expects to have more information in the coming days.

— Becky Jacobs

12:50 p.m.: Utah reports four new deaths

The Utah Department of Health reported four new deaths from COVID-19 on Tuesday, bringing the state’s total to 45.

All four new deaths occurred in Salt Lake County. Three patients were older than 60, one was between 45 and 60, two in long-term care, two were hospitalized, all with underlying medical conditions.

The department’s daily report had no new fatalities either Sunday or Monday. Salt Lake County Health Department reported one fatality Monday afternoon, after the state released its daily report at midday.

The state added 110 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, bringing its overall tally of 4,343.

According to Tuesday’s report, 102,439 people have been tested for the coronavirus — 2,247 of them since Monday’s tally. That’s a smaller daily testing total than in the last few days, as testing has been ramping up near the state’s capacity.

There have been 21 more people hospitalized because of COVID-19, bringing the state’s total to 370.

UDOH estimates 1,704 people have recovered from COVID-19, meaning that they have gone three weeks since their diagnosis and haven’t died.

— Sean P. Means

12:20 p.m.: Salt Lake County ready to ease restrictions as soon as next week

Salt Lake County said Tuesday that it anticipates being able to ease restrictions on some businesses in early May, as long as certain precautions are followed.

A stay-at-home order issued by county Mayor Jenny Wilson is due to expire May 1 and Wilson said recently that the signs are pointing in a good direction for the county.

Hospitals are not being overrun, there is enough protective equipment for medical personnel, contact tracing and testing are both robust, and the transmission rate — the number of people one infected person is expected to infect — has been declining.

“When we open up, we know we’re in this for quite some time. I don’t know if we’re in mile 10 or 12 of the marathon, and it’s all been uphill,” Wilson said, and while there is still a long way to go, she said things are flattening out some.

The county expects to issue safety guidance to businesses in the coming days so they know which precautions will be needed as they prepare to open.

Gov. Gary Herbert said last week that he anticipates announcing an easing of restrictions on businesses sometime this week, as well.

— Robert Gehrke

9 a.m.: Hill Air Force Base F-35A team will fly over Utah to salute residents

The Air Force F-35A Lightning II Demonstration and 388th Fighter Wing — which is based at Hill Air Force Base — will perform a formation flyover Thursday afternoon throughout Utah as a “salute to everyone on the front lines in the fight against COVID-19, as well as those staying at home to flatten the curve of the virus,” according to a news release.

“This flyover is our way of saluting those that are keeping our homefront safe during these unique times,” said Capt. Kristin “BEO” Wolfe, who will lead the formation. “To provide just a small showcase of our appreciation to everyone that is doing their part to combat the virus ... to let everyone who has been affected by this pandemic know that we stand by you.”

The flyover is scheduled to take off from Hill Air Force Base at 1 p.m. on Thursday, proceed south through Salt Lake City to the state’s southern border near St. George, head back north to Park City and Logan, then south through Ogden and back to the air base.

The Air Force is urging Utahns to watch the flights from their homes, maintain social distancing, avoid large gatherings and refrain from traveling to see the flyover.

— Scott D. Pierce

8:55 a.m.: JetBlue is 1st airline to require passengers to wear masks; Delta encourages the same

JetBlue is becoming the first airline to require passengers to wear face masks, beginning Monday. Meanwhile, Delta Air Lines on Tuesday began requiring more of its employees also to wear masks.

JetBlue — which employs about 2,000 people in Utah, where it bases its customer service operations — will now require customers to wear a face covering over their nose and mouth throughout their journey, including during check-in, boarding, in flight and deplaning.

“Wearing a face covering isn’t about protecting yourself; it’s about protecting those around you,” said Joanna Geraghty, president and chief operating officer of JetBlue. “This is the new flying etiquette. Onboard, cabin air is well circulated and cleaned through filters every few minutes, but this is a shared space where we have to be considerate of others. We are also asking our customers to follow these [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidelines in the airport as well.”

Customers will be reminded of the requirement before their flight via email and at the airport by both terminal signs and announcements. Small children who are unable to maintain a face covering are exempt from the requirement.

Meanwhile, Delta — which has provided about 73% of departures from Salt Lake City International Airport — released a memo to employees that changes its face mask policy.

It now will “require all employees and partners to wear masks or face coverings when unable to maintain at least 6 feet between you and another employee, customer or business partner.”

It added, “Masks provide an additional layer of protection that is appropriate at this stage of the epidemic. This requirement is temporary and will remain in place through June 30, at which time we will reevaluate and update as necessary.”

Delta also is strongly encouraging, but not requiring, customers also to wear face masks while traveling.

— Lee Davidson

8:20 a.m.: Davis County bans open burns

Davis County has banned open burning through the end of 2020 because of “the impact of COVID-19 on our local and state emergency services and the poor air quality of our region,” according to a news release from the Davis County Sheriff’s Office.

Homeowners are not allowed to burn anything. Yard waste should be shredded for mulch or hauled to the local landfill.

Recreational fires “may be permitted by local ordinances,” but only when authorized by local fire departments. Campfires are restricted to approved campgrounds where firepits have been “installed by a governmental agency or approved by the Davis County fire warden."

Fires are prohibited in unincorporated Davis County on or below the high Lake Bonneville shoreline watermark bench (approximately 5,200 feet elevation) to SR-89; within half a mile of any residential structure on or east of that bench; and east of Bountiful Boulevard in Bountiful City.

There are exemptions for farms and “horticulture operations” of 2 acres or more, but only for burning prunings, diseased plants, stubble and irrigation ditch banks. Local fire departments must be notified before those burns, which most must be contained and monitored “at all times.”

— Scott D. Pierce