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Utah cases of COVID-19 hit 112, up 34 from Thursday

Herbert adjusts state order after counties call gatherings of more than 10 a criminal offense

SHARE Utah cases of COVID-19 hit 112, up 34 from Thursday

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert addresses the evolving economic situation associated with COVID-19 at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday.

Steve Griffin, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Thirty-four new COVID-19 cases were confirmed in Utah on Friday, bringing the state’s total to 112.

The state still has no reported deaths from coronavirus, according to the Utah Department of Health. In its daily update, the department noted that 2,147 people have been tested so far in the Beehive State.

But how many of those with the virus are, or have been, hospitalized was unknown as of Friday, said Angela Dunn, state epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health. She said the state is now working through data to better characterize all the cases, including those that required hospitalization, demographics and seriousness of each case.

Everyone in Utah who has passed the infectious stage of their illness has recovered, Dunn said.

Salt Lake City Councilman Darin Mano announced he’s tested positive for COVID-19, and is quarantined at home. He believes he was exposed to the virus on a trip to Washington, D.C., that he took March 6-11, according to a press release. During that trip, he and five other City Council members met with other elected officials.

“No one expects to be affected by a health emergency like this, especially if you are typically a very healthy person,” Mano said in a statement. “I’m hopeful for a quick and full recovery and wish the same for everyone else with the virus.”

Salt Lake City council meetings are going to be held virtually, the release states.

Mano’s case is like most of those in Utah, in that they’re related to travel. Dunn said a jump is expected in cases caused by community spread.

“But with social distancing and staying home when you’re ill, we will decrease that number of cases we see day-to-day eventually,” she explained.

Large-gathering prohibitions

Meanwhile, after two Utah counties issued orders that said those who have gatherings of more than 10 people could face a criminal offense, Gov. Gary Herbert on Friday changed the state’s order to a recommendation rather than a prohibition.

The Utah Department of Health had issued an order on Tuesday prohibiting gatherings of more than 10 people — but the order did not clarify whether those in violation of that limit could face prosecution. Under Utah state law, violating a public health order can carry a class B misdemeanor charge on the first offense.

“When we put that order out, working with the local health departments, our communication was probably not as good. And I was a little concerned last night as most of you noticed, when we had two of our local county health departments issue an order trying to reflect what we said, but emphasizing the penalty part of that order when our intent was to have this more of a voluntary compliance,” Herbert said during a news conference Friday.

He said it was believed Utahns would “use good common sense” in applying the crowd limit, “not that this was going to become a police state and they were going to be prosecuted for any kind of violation.”

The change came after the Salt Lake County and Utah County health departments on Thursday both issued their own orders making gatherings of more than 10 people punishable by a class B misdemeanor.

Herbert quickly took to Twitter Thursday night to express his frustration: “The State of Utah was not consulted on the new orders issued by the Salt Lake and Utah County Departments of Health. The Utah Department of Health has directed these orders be repealed immediately.”

“We call upon all people to act rationally and with the good faith and commonsense that has defined our state and her people since its beginning,” he added.

Before Herbert’s announcement on Friday, local law enforcement agencies had already stated it wasn’t something they had planned on heavily enforcing.

Utah County Attorney David Leavitt said in a statement that his office will not prosecute those in violation of the county’s order.

“It’s probably going to be on our priority list on the same range as somebody who forgot to close the door of the gas cap on their truck, or whose license plate is positioned too closely to the ground, or someone who has an unregistered car parked in front of their house,” said Utah County Sheriff’s Sgt. Spencer Cannon. “It’s not a major issue. It’s not something that we even had any discussion about before it was brought to our attention that some had raised concern about it.”

Likewise, Salt Lake police detective Greg Wilking said his office wanted to wait for more clarification before they started enforcing that law. Even so, he said finding groups that were larger than 10 people and arresting people or issuing citations that could equate to class B misdemeanors would not be a top policing priority. 

New cases

On Friday, 15 more residents tested positive for the virus in Salt Lake County; nine in Summit County; six in Davis County; two in the Weber-Morgan area; one in Tooele County; and one in Wasatch County.

Below is a breakdown of cases by area:

  • Salt Lake County, 44 residents, 2 nonresidents
  • Summit County, 28 residents, 7 nonresidents
  • Davis County, 12 residents
  • Weber-Morgan, 6 residents
  • Utah County, 2 residents, 1 nonresident
  • Southwest Utah, 1 resident
  • Wasatch County, 4 residents
  • Tooele County, 2 residents
  • Bear River Health Department, 3 residents

Hill Air Force Base confirmed its first case on Friday, officials said. The patient was getting treated and evaluated for the virus.

The Summit County Health Department said its director estimates there are 10 times more cases in Summit County than have been confirmed, as the number of cases are “changing by the minute.”

Citing a “high volume” of vehicles driving up to its testing tents in Sugar House, Farmington and South Jordan, University of Utah Health said it was opening up on-site evaluation instead of requiring patients to get clearance from providers first. Now, after calling the university’s coronavirus hotline, patients with COVID-19 symptoms will be sent directly to a drive-up site or scheduled for an urgent virtual care appointment.

Intermountain Healthcare also on Friday announced a new symptom checker on its website that uses information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and infectious disease physicians. The symptom checker uses a chat bot that asks people questions to evaluate their risk, and directs them to contact a doctor if necessary.

Another coronavirus case that was announced is an employee at the Utah State Hospital.

After the employee of the pediatric program at the hospital in Provo tested positive for the virus last week, he and a handful of other employees he worked with have each been ordered to stay at home under quarantine, said Dallas Earnshaw, the director of the psychiatric hospital.

A day before testing positive, the employee had worked a single shift after returning from several weeks away from the job, Earnshaw said. He said public health officials confirmed the case.

Each employee at the hospital now is being screened for symptoms before being allowed on campus, Earnshaw added. Residents are being monitored and the hospital is prepared with testing kits, but none have shown symptoms so far. 

The hospital has also set up a video feed in place of live visits from loved ones. 

What is and isn’t allowed?

Although the majority of cases are centered in Salt Lake and Summit counties, Dunn said everyone should follow county and state restrictions and recommendations in public health orders issued in the past week:

• Do not gather in groups of more than 10 people.

• The recommendation for keeping gatherings at 10 or fewer does not apply to grocery stores. Grocery stores have seen large increases in sales during the pandemic, with some throughout Utah, including Associated Food Stores and Costco, now limiting the number of staple foods and supplies shoppers can buy. Associated Food Stores, Costco, Smith’s and others have also implemented hours specifically for senior shoppers to allow them to get what they need and avoid the larger crowds.

• Businesses can have more than 10 employees but are asked to implement social distancing with 6 feet between workers in communal areas.

• Managers should screen employees every day for COVID-19 symptoms, and those who do have symptoms should not be permitted to work on the business premises.

• Employees of any business who need to handle cash must take cleaning measures after each transaction.

• All restaurants, bars and taverns are closed to dine-in services.

• Curbside takeout and drive-thru services are still allowed.

• Cash transactions are “strongly discouraged” but not prohibited.

• Restaurant employees who handle cash or credit cards may not participate in food preparation, handling or delivery.

• Food courier services like DoorDash are allowed, but drivers are required to avoid physical contact with customers. Some delivery apps have emailed customers informing them they need to select a “leave at door” option in Utah while ordering.

• Delivery services, however, are prohibited in Summit County. In Salt Lake County, delivery is only allowed if food is left at a customer’s door.

• All members of a household of someone who tests positive for COVID-19 should self-quarantine.

• Everyone over the age of 60, or those who are immunocompromised, are encouraged to avoid contact with others.

• Avoid nonessential shopping, travel and social visits.

• Everyone is also encouraged not to visit nursing homes and other care facilities.

• In Carbon, Emery and Grand counties, the Southeast Utah Health Department banned short-term rental lodging for new, nonessential visitors.

Contributing: Pat Reavy, Annie Knox, Amy Donaldson