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Utah’s COVID-19 count grows to include a congressman, cases of community spread

Coronavirus diagnoses in state rise to 64

Co-Diagnostics lab technicians Ari Ortolano and Karlee Wendelberger work in the lab as the company produces COVID-19 testing kits in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, March 17, 2020.
Co-Diagnostics lab technicians Ari Ortolano and Karlee Wendelberger work in the lab as the company produces COVID-19 testing kits in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, March 17, 2020.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The list of coronavirus cases in Utah is growing, and now includes Rep. Ben McAdams.

The congressman’s announcement Wednesday evening brought the state’s cases up to 64, after Utah officials released a total of 63 diagnoses earlier in the day and asked that people still follow social distancing guidelines requested to battle COVID-19 in the wake of the morning’s earthquake.

McAdams said in a statement he is isolating himself at home after returning from Washington, D.C., this past weekend. He developed mild cold-like symptoms on Saturday evening. After talking to his doctor on Sunday, he immediately isolated himself at home.

“My symptoms got worse and I developed a fever, a dry cough and labored breathing and I remained self-quarantined. On Tuesday, my doctor instructed me to get tested for COVID-19 and following his referral, I went to the local testing clinic for the test. Today I learned that I tested positive,” McAdams said.

The first-term Democrat said he has been conducting all of his meeting by telephone. He said he’s pursuing efforts to get Utahns the resources they need as he does his job from home until it is safe to end his self-quarantine.

“I’m doing my part as all Americans are doing to contain the spread of the virus and mitigate the coronavirus outbreak,” McAdams said. “I urge Utahns to take this seriously and follow the health recommendations we’re getting from the CDC and other health experts so that we can recover from this public health threat.”

Meanwhile, individual communities sent out guidelines for residents in hopes of stemming the spread.

“We each need to do our part,” said Davis County Health Department Director Brian Hatch. He said county officials are prepared to enforce the limit on social gatherings of 10 or more people, but he hopes it won’t come to that.

Davis County, along with Weber and Morgan counties, and Utah County on Wednesday, issued local states of emergency and public health orders to further protect citizens. The action provides guidance for food service establishments, individuals and businesses within the counties.

“We are looking to the public to adhere to the order,” Hatch said.

The number of confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in Davis County, Hatch said, jumped to six, with one of them a result of community spread. He said the patient contracted the coronavirus “at a work site” outside of Davis County.

Social distancing, he said, is “the biggest deterrent to this virus.”

The Utah Department of Health on Wednesday reported a total of 63 COVID-19 cases statewide, including 53 Utah residents and 10 visitors. The number jumped by 11 since reports on Tuesday.

Public and commercial laboratories in Utah have tested 1,222 people for COVID-19, though some large labs are not reporting all the tests that have negative results. The health department believes the actual number of people tested is much higher, according to its news release on Wednesday.

A breakdown of cases by health district, according to the Utah Health Department:

  • Salt Lake County, 22 residents, 2 nonresidents
  • Summit County, 15 residents, 7 nonresidents
  • Davis County, 6 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

A 5.7 magnitude earthquake forced the closure of the Utah Public Health Laboratory on Wednesday, with testing expected to resume once safety and inspection protocol is complete. The health department reported no tests were in progress when the earthquake shut down the facility.

Additionally, the earthquake forced the evacuation of the call centers handling questions regarding coronavirus, basically shutting down the state’s hotline number.

A temporary Utah COVID-19 information line has been set up at 1-844-442-5224.

Medical facilities and clinics continued to serve patients as normal and have not reported any major damages from the earthquake, though hospital emergency departments reportedly treated minor injuries related to the earthquake. Intermountain Healthcare reports those patients were treated and then released.

The public health orders from Davis, Weber and Morgan counties mirror the order released Tuesday by state officials, prohibiting dining at local food establishments. They also prohibit gatherings of more than 10 people within the three counties.

Employees with symptoms are not permitted to work.

South Salt Lake also issued a state of emergency on Wednesday, to deal with coronavirus as well as the earthquake.

The edicts also contain recommendations for individuals, including continued social distancing, refraining from visiting long-term care facilities and retirement homes, and avoiding discretionary shopping trips other than to get necessary food and other essentials.

It encourages anyone over age 60 to stay home altogether.

The orders will be in place until April 1, though officials will continue to monitor the situation and make updates as needed.

Weber-Morgan Health Department Director Brian Bennion said officials there have confirmed four cases in the two-county health district, and all but one are related to travel outside of Utah. That case, he said, is due to household contact with an infected person.

Bennion said the numbers are “likely to climb” but won’t be as high and will level off sooner because of the work the public is doing to limit the spread.

“I am so impressed how the communities want to work together,” he said, adding that many businesses and food establishments took action before orders were issued locally.

The latest order is not indicative of “panic mode,” Weber County Commissioner Gage Froerer said.

Together, the three counties are also asking small businesses to report how the local response to coronavirus is hurting them economically, so officials can make plans to help them. There are multiple sources offering small business loans at this time and while Froerer said taking on new debt isn’t optimal, “they provide an opportunity to stay in business.”

“We want to let small businesses know that ‘we have your back,’” he said.

More information for small business owners is available online at daviscountyutah.gov/ced/economic-development/incentives-resources, including a survey to let the commission know how things are going.

Froerer said it remains unknown whether grants will be offered, but the counties are developing plans to halt recruiting of new business and focus on keeping what they have.

Davis County Commissioner Lorene Kamalu asked that locals “keep normal purchasing going” to help local businesses.

“As we have seen, this type of disease doesn’t stop at borders,” Bennion said, adding that people need to “do what’s appropriate” to slow the spread of coronavirus infection.

“These are troubling times, there’s no question about it,” he said.

Contributing: Dennis Romboy