SALT LAKE CITY — A new COVID-19 battle plan released Thursday aims to help Utahns find better ways to further slow the spread of the novel coronavirus and keep Utah on track to overall health and economic recovery.
“From day one, our priorities have been both centered on health as well as protecting our economy,” said Jess Anderson, commissioner of the Utah Department of Public Safety and leader of the state’s unified command efforts.
“Those priorities do not change,” he said, adding that focusing on the newly available scorecard, which will be updated weekly, will help Utahns to see their part in it.
Goals for the state include keeping the COVID-19 case fatality rate below 1%, daily case counts below 400 per day, and outbreaks at a minimum, all while protecting hospital thresholds.
“This is an economic crisis that is like no other in that it is also a health crisis,” said Taylor Randall, economic lead on Utah’s Unified Command COVID-19 Task Force and dean at the University of Utah’s Eccles School of Business. “To solve this crisis, we need to be very observant and also solve the health crisis.”
He said consumers not only need to invest in the local economy, but stay healthy doing it.
“We need businesses to comply with hygiene protocols,” Randall said.
Utah’s economic goals point to maintaining a 4.5% unemployment rate and reducing the number of weekly unemployment claims to less than 50,000, as well as retraining people for jobs that have gone away, specifically as federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act supplemental funding is expected to be discontinued at the end of the year.
The outlook also includes increasing consumer confidence through a variety of business-led efforts, including statewide expansion of Salt Lake City’s Stay Safe to Stay Open campaign — where businesses can pledge to follow basic health guidelines in exchange for signage that lets consumers know they have.
“Utah is in an enviable position,” Derek Miller, who heads up the Salt Lake Chamber, said. We have the best unemployment rate in the nation and the best outlook. ... It’s up to us to make that reality.”
Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, said, “there are clear indications that Utah is on the right track. Now is absolutely the time to redouble our efforts.”
The new accountability framework can be found online, at coronavirus.utah.gov/scoreboard. It is the latest to come out of the state’s ever-changing recovery plan, Utah Leads Together.
“What we do today will affect generations for years to come ... it’s important to understand that we’re trying to make that kind of a difference,” said Utah Department of Health Executive Director Rich Saunders.
He said six months into the pandemic in Utah has helped public officials and other members of the state’s COVID-19 task force to determine the best ways to effect the most change.
“We would hope that people would look at this and see the high priorities from public health,” Saunders said.
One of the metrics shows mask usage and compliance rates, which the public health director said should emphasize how important wearing a face covering is to slowing the spread of disease.
“I hope they would look at these measures as important to the behavior of their lives,” Saunders said. “At this point in time, these are the things that will make the biggest difference to our circumstances.”
Another 346 cases of COVID-19 were reported Thursday, bringing the state’s total number of infections to 56,019 since mid-March, though 47,545 of those have recovered without incident, according to the health department.
There have been 430 total deaths due to COVID-19 in Utah, including three new deaths reported Thursday.
Those deaths include a Davis County man and a Salt Lake County woman, both older than 85, and a Utah County woman between the ages of 45 and 64. All three were residents at long-term health care facilities.
The rolling seven-day average for positive tests is 381 per day, with a rolling seven-day average for percent of positive laboratory tests of 9.1%. Both numbers are down slightly from a week ago, when the average number of cases was 394, with a 9.4% positivity rate, said state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn.
“When percent positivity is high, there’s a chance we’re not identifying all of our positive cases,” she said, adding that Utah needs to test more people to obtain a more accurate picture of the virus’ spread.
Dunn said efforts are being made to encourage more people to be tested, including offering less invasive ways that provide quicker results.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said the new plan, which will carry Utahns into the next few months, was developed by “some of the best minds in health care, medicine and science” after months of “learning as we go.”
“The results of our efforts have been good,” he said, adding that it’s not yet “time to declare a victory.” And while the numbers could be lower, Herbert said that transmission rates, average daily case rates and hospital usage are, fortunately, all fairly low in Utah.
“We’re not to the promised land yet, but if we continue the road we’re going, we’re going to get there,” he said.