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Dining in all Utah restaurants restricted as COVID-19 cases jump to 52

Cap on gatherings in Utah drops to 10 people; officials preparing for number of infected to rise in Beehive State

Hospital employees work at a drive-thru COVID-19 testing facility tent outside University of Utah Health’s South Jordan Health Center on Monday, March 16, 2020.
Hospital employees work at a drive-thru COVID-19 testing facility tent outside University of Utah Health’s South Jordan Health Center on Monday, March 16, 2020.
Steve Griffin, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — With the number of coronavirus cases in the state climbing, Gov. Gary Herbert announced Tuesday evening that dining in all Utah restaurants and bars will be suspended for the next two weeks.

But as Utah has ramped up its COVID-19 diagnostic abilities and more private facilities began offering tests, the number of positive cases has jumped by 42 since Friday, bringing the state’s total up to 52.

The governor’s order also drops the cap on gatherings in Utah to just 10 people, matching the recommendation announced by President Donald Trump on Monday.

In a statement, Herbert said the dining restriction will go into effect at 11:59 p.m. Wednesday in an effort to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus in public places.

“With the increasing number of COVID-19 cases in our communities, we must take quick action to adjust our daily lives and limit the spread of the virus,” Herbert said. “We have not made this decision lightly. I know this will disrupt lives and cost jobs, and for that I’m very sorry. Still, I’m convinced this will save many lives, and I’m also convinced that Utahns will step up to help each other and we’ll get through this together.”

The governor also thanked Utahns who are looking for ways to continue supporting Utah businesses. Curbside, drive-thru, pick up, and delivery options for food are still permitted, and the order from from Herbert and the Utah Department of Health called on food service establishments to implement added sanitation procedures and screen employees for symptoms of COVID-19.

Meanwhile, 13 more cases of the virus were confirmed Tuesday, according to health officials.

“We’re preparing for it to go way up, because it’s always better to be prepared for the worst-case scenario,” Dr. Angela Dunn, state epidemiologist for the Utah Department of Health, said.

But the percentage of the 900 people tested so far who returned positive results — about 5.5% — remains lower than the rate in other areas with outbreaks, Dunn said.

That indicates that “we’re still at beginning of this” and can work to slow the spread, according to Dunn.

While previous guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention listed those who had traveled to China or other countries with outbreaks as the most at risk from the virus, travel is no longer a risk factor “because COVID-19 is everywhere,” Dunn said.

A breakdown of cases by area:

  • Salt Lake County, 20 residents, 2 nonresidents
  • Summit County, 8 residents, 7 nonresidents
  • Davis County, 4 residents
  • Weber-Morgan, 4 residents
  • Utah County, 1 resident, 1 nonresident
  • Southwest Utah, 1 resident
  • Wasatch County, 2 residents
  • Tooele County, 1 resident
  • Bear River Health Department, 1 resident

Utah County and the Bear River Health Department, which encompasses Box Elder, Rich and Cache counties, saw their first confirmed cases.

The patient in Utah County is a man over the age of 18, health official said, and was not hospitalized as of Tuesday. Because he attended one day of work, his co-workers who were potentially exposed were asked to stay at home, according to the county health department.

The patient in the Bear River area is between the age of 18 and 60 and is hospitalized. His family has also been asked to stay at home for 14 days and to watch for symptoms, the health department said in a statement.

Ballet West also on Tuesday announced two of its dancers have tested positive for COVID-19.

In addition to the guidance for restaurants, the governor’s order specified access to long-term care facilities should follow recommendations issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

It also included a recommendation that Utahns not visit long-term and nursing care facilities except to provide critical assistance, that individuals over the age of 60 or who are immunocompromised avoid contact with others, and asked Utahns to avoid discretionary travel, inessential shopping trips and social visits.

While health officials have said most who get the virus will have only minor illnesses, those in the community with diabetes are becoming increasingly concerned, said Melissa Young, a Salt Lake City-based pharmacist with the Association of Diabetes Care and Education Specialists.

Social distancing is key, she said, but those with diabetes should also put into place extra measures — and prepare for the chance that they might get the illness.

Young urges those with diabetes to collect a “sick day kit” that includes their health care team’s contact information, emergency contacts, extra medications, an extra week’s supply of insulin, blood glucose testing supplies, and other supplies they use. They should also keep a sugar source inside the kit, Young said.

To be able to get an emergency supply of medications — as most health insurers today make it difficult to build up a supply — Young urges those with diabetes or other conditions to contact their pharmacists for information. Many insurers allow patients to purchase back-up supplies during emergencies, she said, and some states are already making laws to require it.

Those with diabetes or other conditions that make them at-risk should also talk to their health care team and come up with a plan in case they get the virus, she said. For example, some cold medications can increase a person’s blood sugar, according to Young, so it’s a good idea to ask one’s doctor beforehand which is safe.

While many likely know they should do those things, it’s similar to other emergency preparedness measures in general. Many tend to start preparing when the emergency is at one’s doorstep.

“People may hear it here and there, but now people are really thinking about preparedness,” Young said.

The diabetes educator also encouraged Utahns to reach out to their neighbors who are at-risk, or those who are older adults, to offer help while still following the CDC’s social distancing guidelines.

Many Utahns worried they might have the virus have expressed concerns about being turned down for testing. While testing still matters, especially among those at highest risk and health care workers, Dunn said testing doesn’t help for those with mild symptoms.

They don’t need to get tested to prevent spreading the disease. Instead, they can make an impact through social isolation, she said.

The reagent required to run the tests is in short supply, as well as protective gear for health care workers. The Utah Health Department is working with the state’s biotech industry to come up with solutions for continuing to test as supplies from the federal government run low, according to Dunn.

Addressing concerns about people spreading the illness while asymptomatic, Dunn said that although a lot remains unknown about COVID-19, patients appear to be most contagious when they show symptoms.

Also on Tuesday, prior to announcement of the state’s restriction, the Southeast Utah Health Department ordered a halt to all dine-in options for restaurants, taverns, bars, entertainment venues and clubs in Carbon, Emery and Grand counties — the same measure that had been taken in Summit and Salt Lake counties.

Hotels and other forms of short-term lodging in the southeast Utah counties were also banned from new nonessential visitors under the local order.

As state and health care systems across the country grapple with virus, the Red Cross says it is now facing a “severe” shortage of blood, and asks those who are healthy to donate. People can schedule an appointment to give blood with the Red Cross by visiting RedCrossBlood.org.

Almost 2,700 Red Cross blood drives have been canceled across the country as workplaces and schools have taken social distancing measures, Red Cross officials said in a statement, resulting in nearly 90,000 fewer blood donations.

Correction: An earlier version reported a case of coronavirus in a Grand County resident and included the case in state totals. The patient is in Colorado’s Grand County, not Utah.