It’s Friday, May 22. We’ll provide the latest coronavirus updates involving Utah throughout the day.
[Read more coronavirus coverage here.]
4:50 p.m.: Intermountain Healthcare easing visitor restrictions
Intermountain Healthcare is easing its visitor restriction guidelines beginning Friday.
After limiting visitors because of the coronavirus pandemic, Intermountain now says up to two designated visitors can visit patients without suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to a news release.
For end-of-life patients without COVID-19, two visitors are allowed at time, for up to four total visitors during the hospital stay. All visitors must be over 8 and wear a mask.
For those with suspected or active cases of COVID-19, visitors will be limited to patients under 18 and adult patients who need someone with them to keep them safe. Some obstetric patients in this category will also be allowed visitors.
End-of-life patients with COVID-19 are also allowed visitors, but only two designated people per hospital stay. These two must be over 18 and can’t switch out for other adults.
“We recognize the comfort that visitors can bring to their loved ones during the healing and treatment process, said Dr. Shannon Phillips, chief patient experience officer at Intermountain. “We carefully balance that with the need to keep our patients, their loved ones, and caregivers safe and healthy during the current public health concerns of the COVID-19 pandemic."
Intermountain encourages family and friends to contact patients electronically or over the phone, if possible. Hospital staff will give supporters smartphones or tablets to use to call loved ones if they desire.
All hospital visitors will still be questioned about coronavirus symptoms and have their temperature taken before entering the building. They are also required to wear a mask, wash their hands and maintain 6 feet of distance from others.
4 p.m.: Skilled nursing homes to receive $37.3 million in federal money
Skilled nursing facilities in Utah will receive payments totaling $37.3 million as part of the federal coronavirus response, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced Friday.
The payments are meant to help facilities who have lost business due to the pandemic or have had COVID-19 related expenses.
According to a news release from the department, skilled nursing facilities across the country have seen a 6% decline in patient population since the start of 2020 either due to patient deaths or families opting for other types of care.
The facilities will receive a fixed distribution of $50,000 plus a distribution of $2,500 per bed.
— Nate Carlisle
2:45 p.m.: Salt Lake City Cheese Festival will go on, but as an outdoor market
The inaugural Salt Lake City Cheese Festival in 2019 attracted more than 300 people who were able to sample the best cheddar, Swiss and goudas from creameries around the state.
This year, though, the format has changed to Cheese Market 2020 to meet current coronavirus health restrictions.
The free event, for those 21 and older, will be June 13 from 3 to 7 p.m. at the The Garten, 417 N. 400 West, on the grounds of Mountain West Hard Cider.
“Around St. Patrick's Day, when everything began to close, I was still hopeful the event could continue,” founder Steve Jerman said in a news release.
Guests will be able to buy prepackaged cheeses and meats as well as other Utah-made products — including Butchers Bunches jams and Grandma Sandino's Italian sauces.
The Lost Bread food truck will have cheese sandwiches, French toast, and bread pudding for sale. There also will be live music, craft beer and hard cider.
More information is available at SLCheeseFest.com.
— Kathy Stephenson
2:05 p.m.: Flags to be lowered Sunday
Gov. Gary Herbert has ordered U.S. and Utah flags be flown at half-staff Sunday in honor of victims of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The order matches a proclamation from President Donald Trump.
“We join with the entire country in paying our respects to those who have lost their lives in this deadly pandemic,” Herbert said in a statement. “As we fight this virus together, let us remember those who have passed, those who are struggling with the disease, and the healthcare heroes who make daily sacrifices to provide the best treatment to those who are suffering.”
The order lowers flags at all state facilities and public grounds from sunrise until sunset on Sunday. Individuals and businesses are encouraged to do likewise.
Utah’s death toll stands at 93, and more than 90,000 people have died of the virus in the United States.
— Nate Carlisle
2 p.m.: Bluff denied in request to stay at high alert
A request made last week by the 262-person town of Bluff to remain at the highest level of coronavirus alert has been denied by the Utah Department of Health after consultation with the governor’s office. A similar request made by the San Juan Public Health Department on behalf of the small community of Mexican Hat was also denied.
Both communities border the Navajo Nation and are in San Juan County, which has the highest coronavirus case rate per capita in Utah. Local leaders had asked to remain at the “red” level of restrictions after most of the state moved to “yellow,” or low-risk, restrictions May 15. The two communities were instead placed at the “orange,” or moderate, level of alert, which allows certain businesses such as trading posts to reopen.
“Based on your population and concerns the Town of Bluff and Mexican Hat are ... approved to remain in the Orange Phase of the Governor’s plan until May 28th,” wrote Jefferson Burton, the acting executive director of the Utah Department of Health, in a letter denying the request.
Bluff Mayor Ann Leppanen had previously expressed concerns about reopening given Bluff’s elderly population. She also said reopening too quickly could put the town’s workforce, which is mostly drawn from the Navajo Nation, at risk. Under “orange” guidelines, restaurants are allowed to partially resume dine-in services.
— Zak Podmore
1:30 p.m.: One additional death reported; 183 new cases
Another Utahn has died from COVID-19, state health officials announced on Friday.
The patient who died was a Weber County woman who was older than 85. She lived in a long-term care facility. The state’s coronavirus death toll is now 93.
Thirteen new patients had been hospitalized, down 3 from Thursday’s increase of 16 patients. As of Friday there had been 660 hospitalizations for COVID-19 in Utah since the pandemic began, with 108 of those patients still receiving hospital care.
The state reported 183 new confirmed cases of the virus on Thursday, bringing the total to 8,057 cases — an increase of 2.3% since Thursday. Of those, 4,748 are considered “recovered” — that is, they have survived for three weeks following a diagnosis for COVID-19.
The state also reported new test results for 3,960 people between Wednesday and Thursday, with 4.6% of those testing positive. In total, 186,834 tests have been conducted since the beginning of the pandemic, with an overall positive rate of 4.3%.
— Erin Alberty
9:30 a.m.: Commission urges coronavirus data protections
The coronavirus commission created by the state Legislature is advising lawmakers to pass a bill on data use and privacy protections.
The recommendations relate to the state’s contact-tracing mobile app, which gathers the location data of users but is supposed to automatically delete it every month. Data about user symptoms is supposed to be de-identified every 30 days, as well, according to a commission news release.
The group is recommending that legislators put these guidelines into state law and require deletion of the data when it’s no longer needed to combat COVID-19.
“As the state uses information from digital technology tools to help safeguard Utahns from the virus, privacy laws will help ensure and secure individuals’ privacy regarding personal data,” Sen. Dan Hemmert, who co-chairs the public health and economic emergency commission, said in a statement. “Legislation will assist in preventing arbitrary interference.”
Hemmert, R-Orem, is expected to sponsor the legislation in an upcoming special session along with Rep. Mike Schultz, R-Hooper.
— Bethany Rodgers
7:50 a.m.: Utah faring better than the nation economically
Utah’s unemployment rate rose to 9.7% in April, state economists said Friday, with nearly 155,800 state residents thrown out of work by the pandemic.
In the first solid measure of COVID-19’s economic hit, that jobless rate, while sharply worse from even two months ago, is still well below the national unemployment rate of 14.7% — a strong indication the Beehive State has fared better than the U.S. as a whole.
“Utah’s strong economy preceding this pandemic offered more cushion against disruption than seen across the rest of the country, thus Utah’s more moderate setback,” said Mark Knold, chief economist at the state Department of Workforce Services.
Knold also noted that large numbers of idled workers in Utah have been furloughed by the crisis and they expect to return to their jobs when that is possible.
Nonetheless, Workforce Services reported that private-sector employment shrank in April by 8.1%, declining in eight of 10 major industries. Losses were heaviest in leisure and hospitality, down 66,700 jobs; trade, transportation and utilities, down 15,400; and education and health services, down 8,800, it said.
Only the construction and information technology sectors gained slightly in April, at 3,400 and 500 jobs, respectively.
On a percentage basis, jobs at restaurants, bars and hotels; in motion picture and sound recording; in employment services; and in air transportation all took devastating double-digit blows, data show.
Rural counties with portions of their economies devoted to tourism also saw heavy losses, led by Garfield (-19.4%); Grand (-18.6%); Summit (-18.3%); and Kane (-17.4%).
Salt Lake County’s employment fell by 7.6%, according to Friday’s report, while Davis County was down 7.2%; Weber by 6.9% and Utah County was down 6.4%.
— Tony Semerad