Like many have said, “What a year this week has been!” Yes, it has been economically devastating for many and socially isolating for all. But we live in the best state in the nation, full of minds working on the problem from every possible angle. As I’ve listened to a number of conference calls and press conferences, it seems we are all involved in a state-wide Eagle Scout project. Needed supplies are being gathered and people are volunteering to play their role — whether that is staying home, serving others or sharing best practices. Here are 15 of the facts, good news, action items and concerns I’ve seen cross my digital desk the past couple of days.
Pray and Serve
Governor Gary Herbert has declared March 20-22 a weekend of prayer and service. “I invite all Utahns to join me in praying for guidance, comfort, patience and healing as we face the COVID-19 pandemic,” Gov. Herbert wrote. Lieutenant Governor Spencer J. Cox told the Silicon Slopes community late Friday afternoon, “If you believe in a higher power, we need positive vibes. Every one of us needs to find at least one way to serve someone. It will be good for our psyche and will pull us together as a state.” Since our seagulls-and-crickets days, we’ve been a state that believes in prayer and has faith in miracles. What a weekend this year will be! (That word play didn’t totally work, but I’m in isolation so please go easy on me.)
Utah has 112 cases of COVID-19 (102 residents, 10 visitors). This was up 34 cases in the past day, which is the largest daily jump so far. The rate of increase is approximately 50 percent each day. Dr. Angela Dunn, state epidemiologist, says the known cases are still more travel-related than through community-spread. All of the state’s COVID-19 patients who have passed the infectious point have recovered. Translation: No deaths in Utah! Salt Lake County leads the state with 44 cases, with Summit County second at 28 cases. Utah County has only 2 positive COVID-19 tests so far. She says we can expect this pandemic to last several weeks, and we have not yet reached the peak. However, we are hoping to reach the peak and flatten it as quickly as possible. Every conference call and press conference emphasizes and re-emphasizes the point that we can and must practice social distancing to stop the spread of the virus.
Utah has tested 2,147 people for the virus, including 621 on Thursday alone. The No. 1 priority of state leaders has been working closely with state labs and private companies to increase our capacity to test for COVID-19. A couple of notable ideas: Utah’s Chaoi-ih Hui (a Women Tech Award recipient) is an expert on COVID tests that can be done at home and will identify virus carriers within 15 minutes. This test is used in China, but there has been an export ban because China needed the supplies. With the ban now lifted, Utahns are working to export these supplies. (See more here.) Another innovation is drive-thru testing where the patient sits in his or her car while being tested. One added bonus is that this test allows PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) to be used more than once by health-care professionals (instead of one set of PPE needed per person being tested inside the healthcare facility). So far, the other limiting factor in testing has been running the lab tests due to the lack of reagent chemicals needed to read the tests. Cool fact! Someone in Utah happened to have 700 re-agent extraction kits they were able to provide to the state. LG Cox said he’s hopeful the state will be conducting 1,000 tests per day by Monday, with hopes of doubling that daily number next week. Dr. Dunn assured us that our state is not giving preferential testing treatment to celebrities or to the wealthy. The state is following CDC guidelines to know who should be tested given our limited supply.
Utah’s hospitals are in a coalition to stop elective surgeries, with the goal of saving Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for emergencies and for COVID-19 uses. Hospitals have their own supply of PPE, and the Utah Department of Health also maintains an inventory — which is in the process of being distributed to hospitals state-wide. The state can supply the state’s hospitals for a couple of days. “We have the supply to handle the demand today, but not for the entire epidemic,” Dr. Dunn reports. The state of Washington has had to relax their standards for PPE equipment (such as reusing PPE for multiple patients). Utah is hoping to maintain the traditional PPE standards throughout the epidemic by tracking down PPE from all corners of the state. “This is all hands on deck moving forward,” Cox says. So many individuals and businesses are raising their hands with pieces of the puzzle. Goldman Sachs found and donated masks from their disaster prep supply. Cox said he’s been working with dental and veterans groups (among others) to acquire more PPE. More PPE = more tests done while protecting our healthcare workers.
In order to ramp up to 100,000 COVID-19 tests in Utah in the next 30 days, a number of factors must be in place (see slide of info attached). For example, we need trained people to take the samples and sites to collect them. Right now, Utah County has only one site to collect tests (University of Utah Heath Parkway Center in Orem), although Intermountain and others are working to increase the capacity.
Although Dr. Dunn wouldn’t release the number of ventilators in the state, she did say we do not have enough to manage a large increase of cases in the state.
The state has no plans in place for additional restrictions for businesses such as salons. Their main goal is to restrict large gatherings, which is why restaurant lobbies have closed. Dr. Dunn says if we can live by the state’s recommendations so far (groups smaller than 10, stay home when sick), we won’t have to have mandatory restrictions such as California and other states. Utah is ahead of the curve in terms of supplies, leadership, communication, and adherence to the state’s recommendations. “Utah is encouraging people to do the right thing rather than operating with an overly heavy hand,” Sen. Mike Lee said.
Slopes Serves (nonprofit under the Silicon Slopes umbrella) has a goal of collecting $5 million toward COVID-19-related needs in our state (both health and economic). Ryan and Ashley Smith of Qualtrics donated $1 million. Ancestry and Mark Newman (Nomi Health) each donated $100,000. To donate time, money or items, visit slopesserves.com. This is a trusted organization with a clear mission to protect this community we’ve built together.
Senator Mike Lee told the Silicon Slopes community about the phases of legislation they are working on to help American businesses and employees, including one bill that he says unfortunately included an unintended incentive to lay off workers. He and others are working on getting that part fixed in the Phase 3 portion of their legislative efforts. Legislators are being sent large documents at all hours of the day and votes are being taken before everyone has read, analyzed and digested the information. Gratefully, the federal government’s current plan is to send $1,200 per adult and $500 per child, with these benefits being phased out at $150,000 in family income or $75,000 for individual filers. These checks will likely be sent out in about two weeks. $$$👍
Dr. Dunn says we are going to be in this “social distancing” climate for some time, so we need to balance the restrictions with our own mental health. During Friday’s press conference when she was asked about playdates with friends, she said we shouldn’t be afraid to do things such as walks outside and small group activities.
The virus is transmitted through droplets: Think sneezing and coughing. Droplets can live on surfaces for a couple of days, which means when we touch surfaces we are potentially sharing germs with anyone else who has touched that same surface for the past two days. Suggestion: Consumers should be paying with credit cards instead of cash, preferably with the card not being handed to the vendor. Check out cdc.gov for other cleaning instructions for businesses and homes.
Message From The CEO
Qualtrics co-founder Ryan Smith spoke to the Silicon Slopes community from his spacious closet full of denim. He acknowledged the stress that he and his teams are experiencing as they transition to working from home. He suggested getting dressed and ready in the morning and creating a to-do list. His company is offering free solutions for businesses and governments, including COVID-19 assessments being used around the world. BYU Pathways President Clark Gilbert also shared with the Silicon Slopes community what he’s learned from leading a large online university. Our state’s leaders are being generous with their wisdom and resources.
From the 4,000 cases in the United States, hospitalization is consistent among age groups from 20-85 (meaning, young people with the virus are being hospitalized at the same rate as the older age groups). However, those above age 65 have a higher rate of needing ICU beds. And those above age 85 have the highest mortality rate from the disease. See coronavirus.utah.gov for more info.
Here’s a Tip
Salt Lake City Mayor Mendenhall and actor Ty Burrell (“Modern Family”) launched a fundraiser campaign called “Tip Your Server” to help Utah’s restaurant workers displaced by this economy. Ty put $100,000 in to launch the campaign, which you can find at downtownslc.org.
Silicon Slopes Executive Director Clint Betts closed his remarks on Friday’s SS call by saying, “We’re going to get through this thing, and we’re going to get through it like we always do in Utah … together.” Amen and amen. (One last reminder to pray this weekend!)