Live coronavirus updates for Wednesday, May 13: Two more die; Megaplex Theatres offers private screenings for groups of 20 or less

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) A steady stream of customers is allowed in to visits Snider Brothers Meats in Cottonwood Heights as another leaves on Tuesday, May 5, 2020, where owners Will and Amy Wilson, have been trying to keep things as safe as possible through regular sanitizing, social distancing and requiring all customers wear a mask.

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

[Read more coronavirus coverage here.]


7:15 p.m.: Bryce Canyon National Park cancels Astronomy Festival

Bryce Canyon National Park has reopened to visitors amid the pandemic — but, as a precaution, it will still be canceling its annual Astronomy Festival.

The park posted the decision on Twitter on Wednesday evening.

The hope is to avoid large gatherings in line with recommendations from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Though disappointing,” the post said, “we look forward to providing the stellar astro programming we are known for in the future.”

The Astronomy Festival is held each year in June. The park also noted, though, that no decision has been made yet about the Geology Festival currently scheduled for July.

— Courtney Tanner

2 p.m.: Some areas of Utah will have less restrictions than others

Utah’s next steps to unwind coronavirus-related restrictions will likely be uneven, says Dr. Angela Dunn, the state epidemiologist, with areas experiences fewer cases being allowed to open up faster than those where the virus is spreading more rapidly.

Any movement in this area will take the sign off of Gov. Gary Herbert.

On May 1, Herbert changed the official risk level for the state from “red,” indicating a high risk of COVID-19 for all residents, to an “orange,” or moderate, risk level that allows certain businesses to reopen. “Yellow”-level restrictions allow all businesses to open with reasonable precautions, and for schools to reopen.

"It's important for these jurisdictions to be able to make decisions that make sense for them," Dunn said Wednesday. "There are certainly some places in Utah that have seen a decrease in cases, while maintaining testing capacity and they still have hospital surge capacity. So those places will likely be able to move a little quicker to yellow. In terms of a blanket statewide order, I think that's a little tougher because we do still have jurisdictions that are seeing an increase in cases."

Some local governments have already asked to deviate from the state-wide "orange" level.

The 262-person town of Bluff in San Juan County, which has at least five confirmed cases of COVID-19, was granted an exemption that allowed it to keep the highest restrictions in place. Requests to reopen all businesses made by Washington, Kane and Iron counties were denied earlier this month.

Dunn said that it's understandable that people want to move back to their daily lives as they were pre-pandemic, but stressed a return to normalcy is likely a far way off.

"We need to evaluate how we can still do the things we love and enjoy," she said, "but just in a different way."

— Jessica Miller

1:25 p.m.: Megaplex Theatres offers private group screenings

Indoor movie theaters are still closed in Utah, but families can soon rent auditoriums at four Megaplex Theatres locations for private screenings for 20 or fewer people.

The Utah-based theater chain is taking reservations for private screenings, at four locations: The District in South Jordan; Thanksgiving Point in Lehi; Legacy Crossing in Centerville; and Pineview in St. George.

For a flat fee of $375, a family can get a private screening of a new or classic movie for up to 20 family members. The fee also covers 20 large tubs of popcorn and 20 large drinks, using the theaters’ Coca-Cola Freestyle machines. (No refills for the popcorn or drinks.)

Seats and high-contact surfaces will be cleaned and sanitized before and after each screening. Guests must follow appropriate CDC guidelines.

For a list of available film titles, or to reserve a theater, call Julene Jolley, Megaplex’s events director, at 801-304-4551, or email her at jjolley@megaplextheatres.com

— Sean P. Means

1:20 p.m.: ARUP adds new antibody test

ARUP on Tuesday announced it is making a second COVID-19 antibody test available nationwide.

Both tests detect the presence of antibodies, which are proteins in the blood that attach to the virus and help the body eliminate it. IgG antibodies begin to develop in people seven days after having been exposed to COVID-19. It has yet to be proven whether IgG antibodies provide immunity.

“The availability of two IgG tests using different methodologies, with each detecting antibodies to a different part of the virus, may be helpful in certain settings,” said Dr, Julio Delgado, ARUP’s chief medical officer.

Both tests report results as “positive” or “negative” for IgG antibodies, but the new EUROIMM test adds an index value that can be used to measure the level of antibody response to SARS-CoV-2 and to monitor changes in the antibody response to the virus over time with repeat testing. The EUROIMM test was available in limited settings as of early April before today’s nationwide rollout.

— Norma Gonzalez

1 p.m.: Utah’s death toll reaches 75

Two more Utahns have died from COVID-19, the state’s health department announced Wednesday, bringing Utah’s death toll to 75.

Information about the deaths were not immediately available, other than the people resided in Salt Lake County.

The state now has 6,620 COVID-19 cases, 188 more than was reported Tuesday.

Eighteen more people have been hospitalized since the day before, bringing the total to 553 hospitalizations. Though the number of currently hospitalized people remained at 99.

So far, 156,786 people have been tested for the coronavirus. In the last day, 3,301 more tests have been tallied.

The health department reports 3,406 cases — 51.45% of all of Utah’s reported cases — are considered “recovered,” meaning it’s been three weeks since they were first diagnosed and they are still alive.

— Jessica Miller

11:50 a.m.: Renters group asks Herbert to extend eviction moratorium

A Utah community group advocating for tenants has added its voice to those urging the governor to extend his April 1 moratorium on evictions for two more months.

Utah Renters Together said Wednesday that although the state recently launched a $4 million rental assistance program, the aid has been slow to reach those in need, even as Gov. Gary Herbert’s moratorium is set to expire Friday.

Many renters in Utah whose livelihoods have been disrupted by the pandemic could face eviction notices the following day for up to two months of back rent, said June Hiatt, an organizer for the group.

“Many people are still losing work, waiting on unemployment claims, and wondering how they are going to pay this month’s rent — and possibly back rent from April,” Hiatt said in a statement. “There are inadequate options from the state right now.”

Officials from 21 civic and faith groups and advocates for low-income residents sent a letter to Herbert last week, urging him to extend the moratorium until July 15 — a move opposed by the influential Utah Apartment Association, representing landlords.

A spokesperson for the Republican governor said last week his order was “under review.”

— Tony Semerad

10:40 a.m.: New projections show food insecurity in Utah will increase

The Utah Food Bank expects 165,000 more Utahns will need food assistance during the next to 12 to 18 months because of the coronavirus.

Before the crisis began, 374,000 Utahns — and 1 in 7 children — were unsure where their next meal would come from, Ginette Bott, president and CEO, said in a news release. But with businesses and schools closing and a surge in unemployment filings, it is forecast that the number of food-insecure Utahns will grow by an additional 165,000, or $6.5 million, through the end of 2021.

The numbers are based on an impact analysis conducted by Feeding America.

“We are seeing a lot of first-time recipients, and it’s hard for them to get past their embarrassment, and their pride, to come to us,” Bott said. “We try to make it easy for them and ensure they know we are here to help, which we can only do thanks to the incredible support we are receiving from our community.

”Bott said business donations, such as a recent $743,000 gift from Fidelity Investments, are essential.

It is one of the largest single private donations the Utah Food Bank has received in its 27-year history. It equates to 2.9 million meals for Utahns. Including this year’s donation, Fidelity Investments has raised more than $3 million, 1,600 volunteers and 1,818,561 pounds of food — the equivalent of over 13 million meals.

— Kathy Stephenson

10:30 a.m.: Salt Lake City, Provo in top 10 of Moody’s Analytics list of cities poised to recover from COVID-19

Two of Utah's metropolitan regions are among the top 10 cities best poised to recover from the economic disruption by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Moody’s Analytics issued a report that names Salt Lake City and Provo as some of the metro areas best positioned to recover.

“The most dynamic recoveries may well bypass traditional powerhouses and take place instead in areas that either were or were poised to lead the way in 2020 before everything changed,” writes Adam Kamins, senior regional economist at Moody’s Analytics and the author of the report.

Top 10: Cities Best-Positioned to Recover From Coronavirus

  • Boise, Idaho

  • Denver, Colorado

  • Durham, North Carolina

  • Madison, Wisconsin

  • Provo, Utah

  • Raleigh, North Carolina

  • Salt Lake City, Utah

  • San Jose, California

  • Tucson, Arizona

  • Washington DC

Bottom 10: Cities Worst-Positioned to Recover From Coronavirus

  • Detroit, Michigan

  • Honolulu, Hawaii

  • Los Angeles, California

  • McAllen, Texas

  • Miami, Florida

  • New Haven, Connecticut

  • New York City

  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

  • Stockton, California

  • Tampa, Florida

— Norma Gonzalez

10:25 a.m.: Salt Lake City’s Erin Mendenhall among mayors urging Congress to support artists in coronavirus relief bill

Mayors of 23 U.S. cities — including Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall — have written a letter to leaders in Congress, urging them to help artists and arts organizations in the next round of coronavirus-related federal relief.

“This is about individuals — artists and cultural workers alike — whose livelihoods are being threatened if not already irrevocably impacted,” the letter reads. “This is also about the soul of our communities: it is the arts that make each of our communities unique. And it is the arts that will help our communities survive and thrive economically.”

Among the recommendations made by the mayors:

• Extending unemployment benefits for artists, arts professionals and self-employed workers.

• Adjusting the Economic Stabilization Fund to cover nonprofit employers with between 500 and 10,000 employees.

• Extending Small Business Administration (SBA) and Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) assistants to artists and arts professionals, as well as removing the 500-employee cap on forgivable SBA loans to nonprofits.

• More funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute for Museum and Library Services.

• Support policies to speed up processing of artist visas and consular appointments, to support international cultural activity.

• Remove the $300 cap on charitable donations for people who don’t itemize their tax returns.

The letter is addressed to: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.; House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif; Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.; and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.Besides Mendenhall, the 23 mayors who signed the letter include Bill de Blasio of New York, Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles, Lori Lightfoot of Chicago, and London N. Breed of San Francisco.

— Sean P. Means

10:15 a.m.: COVID-19 returns to the Salt Lake County jail. Two inmates test positive.

Two more people who are incarcerated at the Salt Lake County jail have tested positive for the coronavirus.

The jail was COVID-19 free in late April, but the virus is now back in the facility.

Sgt. Carrie Fisher said Tuesday that there are 28 inmates currently being quarantined. Of those, two have tested positive and four have tested negative.

Attorneys for the county wrote in court papers in late April that the jail at one time had 15 other cases involving current or former inmates. They say the virus was traceable back to one housing unit and the laundry area of the county’s Oxbow facility.

Those who are currently quarantined have not been able to attend their court hearings, even remotely.

This has led to some delays, and in the case of one inmate, he wasn’t able to listen or speak before a judge reduced his federal prison sentence by more than 40 years.

— Jessica Miller

10:10 a.m.: Thanksgiving Point to reopen Butterfly Biosphere, Harvest Restaurant

The gradual reopening of Lehi’s Thanksgiving Point continues, with the venue’s Butterfly Biosphere and Harvest Restaurant welcoming guests starting Friday.

The Butterfly Biosphere will allow a limited number of guests each half hour, though the length of a visit is not restricted. Guests will be directed inside the conservatory through one-way signage. Masks are encouraged but not required. Hand sanitizing stations will be placed throughout the guest areas.

The biosphere’s Costa Rica Climber play area will remain off-limits for now. The Harvest Restaurant, in the Water Tower Plaza, will serve dinner, but reservations are required. The restaurant’s space has been reconfigured to create more space between guest tables. No parties of more than 10 people will be booked.

Thanksgiving Point’s outdoor venues, the Ashton Gardens and Farm Country, reopened on May 1. The Museum of Ancient Life, aka “the dinosaur museum,” opened its doors on May 8. All venues are following state and county health guidelines, officials at Thanksgiving Point say.

— Sean P. Means

9:35 a.m.: Walmart to provide a second round of cash bonuses for hourly employees

Walmart on Tuesday announced plans to provide a second special cash bonus for all U.S. hourly employees in recognition for their contributions to communities across the country during the pandemic.

The bonus, which will be $300 for full-time hourly employees and $150 for part-time hourly and temporary staffers, extends to employees in stores, clubs, supply chain and offices, drivers and assistant managers in stores and clubs. The bonuses will add up to more than $390 million.

Employees must be employed by the company as of June 5 to qualify, and it will pay out on June 25.

“Walmart and Sam’s Club associates continue to do remarkable work, and it’s important we reward and appreciate them,” said John Furner, President and CEO of Walmart U.S. “All across the country, they’re providing Americans with the food, medicine and supplies they need, while going above and beyond the normal scope of their jobs — diligently sanitizing their facilities, making customers and members feel safe and welcome, and handling difficult situations with professionalism and grace.”

— Norma Gonzalez