Live coronavirus updates for Thursday, May 28: Utah reports 2 more deaths as new cases jump by 215; law firm offers free help to businesses

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Gary Harter, executive director of Utah's Department of Veterans and Military Affairs, at a news conference in Salt Lake City on Thursday, May 28, 2020. At left is Dr. Angela Dunn.

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

[Read more coronavirus coverage here.]


3:28 p.m.: Law firm offers free legal services to businesses impacted by COVID-19

The law firm Stoel Rives is offering free legal services to small businesses in Utah and other states where it operates as they navigate issues related to the pandemic.

A managing partner in the firm, based in Portland, Ore., said Thursday the newly launched Main Street Relief Project would provide no-cost legal help with financial issues caused by COVID-19 for restaurants, bars and retail outlets that aren’t franchises and are not owned by large corporations or private-equity firms.

The project, managing partner Melissa Jones said, “aims to help these businesses survive, reopen and re-establish themselves in the coming months.”

The law firm, which has offices in Salt Lake City, said it would answer questions from qualifying business owners about accessing aid programs, managing employees and safety protocols in reopening, among other matters.

“Our attorneys look forward to using our skills to help our neighbors,” said Jeremy Sacks, chair of Stoel Rives’ pro bono committee, which will oversee applications from businesses for the project.

Businesses in Utah as well as Alaska, California, Idaho, Minnesota, Oregon and Washington can apply here for the firm’s help.

— Tony Semerad

11:40 a.m.: Cases at veterans nursing home rise

Gary Harter, executive director of the Utah Department of Veterans and Military Affairs, said Thursday that another round of testing at a state veterans home in Salt Lake City has seen 41 residents and 17 health care employees test positive for COVID-19.

The state is investigating how the disease entered the William E. Christoffersen Salt Lake Veterans Home. Residents are now quarantined in their rooms.

“Some of this speaks to the insidious nature of asymptomatic spread,” Harter said.

A first round of testing May 18 had found five residents and three staffers who were positive. Those residents were transferred to the nearby VA Medical Center. Visitors have not been allowed in the facility since mid-March.

“This is an extremely challenging virus," Harter said, “but we’re determined to beat it.”

Harter said there were 72 residents in the veterans home May 18, when the first case was reported. None of those who have tested positive is critically ill.

— Robert Gehrke

11:35 a.m.: Two more Utahns have died

Two Utah County men are being added to the state’s death toll from COVID-19, the Utah Department of Health reported Thursday.

One of the men was between 60 and 85 years old; the other was between 18 and 60. Both were hospitalized at the time of their death, UDOH reported.

The state’s death toll stands Thursday at 106, only one more than Wednesday’s report. UDOH said that one of the COVID-19 deaths reported Wednesday — of a resident of a long-term care facility — has been removed from the total count, and is being investigated further.

The state saw 215 new cases confirmed since Wednesday, a daily rate increase of 2.5%. Utah has had 8,921 positive cases since the pandemic began.

Eighteen people have been hospitalized with COVID-19 in the past day, UDOH reported. That brings the total number of hospitalizations to 734.

There were 97 positive COVID-19 cases still in hospitals Thursday.

UDOH reported that 2,881 tests for the coronavirus were performed since Wednesday. That brings the total number of tests to 203,507, with a positive rate of 4.4%.

The health department says 5,623 people have “recovered” from COVID-19 — which, by the state’s definition, means someone has gone three weeks since being diagnosed with the disease and hasn’t died.

— Sean P. Means

11:25 a.m.: Farmers Feeding Utah to target northern Utah

Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox said Farmers Feeding Utah’s partnership with farmers has delivered 300 live sheep to the Navajo Nation and plans to deliver 300 more next week, in addition to thousands of pounds of meat and flour.

The next phase, he said, will be to help fill food pantries in northern Utah.

Cox said the Navajo Nation leads the state in terms of per capita testing, partly due to the deployment of mobile testing labs.

— Robert Gehrke

11:15 a.m.: Herbert laments toll on Navajo Nation

Gov. Gary Herbert urged Utahns in southeastern Utah to abide by health directives issued by the Navajo Nation as the coronavirus continues to take a toll on members of the tribe.

“They have the highest rate of infection and death rate in the nation,” Herbert said. “Our hearts go out to all of our Navajo friends, brothers and sisters down there.”

The nation, which spans parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, has recorded 158 deaths among its 200,000 members, giving it the highest per capita rate of infection and death in the country. Of those cases, 251 positive tests and four deaths have been recorded on the Utah portion of the nation.

Dustin Jansen, director of the Utah Division of Indian Affairs, said the state has helped monitor the situation and coordinated with tribal and federal partners. The state has also deployed mobile testing capacity to the Navajo Nation four times.

Jansen said the state has also sent food to the tribe, including 16,000 pounds of lamb, as well as flour and vegetables.

He said that part of the reason the Navajo Nation had been so hard hit was because the virus was late arriving and, by the time it hit, the tribe was behind on buying protective equipment and testing kits. He also said it’s a more rural area and people are more sociable.

— Robert Gehrke

10 a.m.: Timpanogos Cave partially reopens

Timpanogos Cave National Monument reopens for the season Friday, but its main attraction remains closed.

“Tours will resume when visitors can safely enjoy the caves in accordance with state and federal guidelines," the National Park Service said in a news release. Usually this time of year, the cave system in American Fork Canyon is swarming with kids on ranger-led tours.

But the public can still enjoy the caves, thanks to online tours monument staffers will post on Facebook every Monday and Thursday throughout the summer starting June 4. Using digital scans, they are creating “a virtual cave experience” that might rival the real thing.

"Rangers will highlight details often missed on a normal tour and answer questions in real time for visitors who can enjoy the caves from the comfort of home," the released stated.

This week on her regular "Wild About Wildlife" post, monument Ranger B.J. Cluff celebrates the 16 species of cave-dwelling bats that inhabit American Fork Canyon.

All the monument restrooms will be open, and rangers will be available to assist visitors who can hike the monument’s trail and enjoy the views.

Also reopening Friday, although much more fully, are Arches and Canyonlands national parks, which are increasing access and services in a phased manner as are all national parks. Before heading out, always check national parks’ websites to get the latest information.

— Brian Maffly

7 a.m.: More than 5,000 Utahns file jobless claims

Nearly 5,455 Utahns filed for unemployment last week, the lowest number since mid-March, when COVID-19 first began to roil labor markets.

They joined some 2.1 million across the country who filed jobless claims the week ending May 23, the U.S. Department of Labor reported Thursday, for a total more than 40 million Americans who’ve lost work due to the pandemic.

That marks the seventh week Utah jobless claims have declined from their early April spike of 33,000 Utahns reporting pay cuts, furloughs or layoffs. By comparison, peak weeks during the Great Recession hovered around 5,000 claims.

More than 190,835 state residents have sought unemployment benefits since the week ending March 7, including more than 23,935 self-employed and contract workers, who are now covered for jobless aid under a new program by Congress.

But at least 10,000 Utahns have also dropped their claims in recent weeks, implying they’ve returned to work as stay-at-home restrictions due to COVID-19 continue to ease and the state reopens more of its economy.

— Tony Semerad