During today’s Silicon Slopes conference call, Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox learned from Elder Craig C. Christensen that his missionary son (along with almost all of the 19,800 U.S. missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints serving in foreign lands) will be returning to the United States. And all of us on the call heard in real time that Governor Herbert declared schools will stay closed until at least May 1. Information is changing rapidly, and even people “in the know” are learning about developments just moments before the public is made aware. The LDS Church, the state government, Utah Health Department, and Silicon Slopes are collaborating in unprecedented ways. Here are 16 takeaways from today’s press conferences and conference calls.
Missionaries Coming Home
Almost all missionaries serving outside their home country are in process of being returned to their native land, said Utah Area President Elder Craig C. Christensen on the Silicon Slopes Town Hall. A few exceptions include some missionaries in Australia, New Zealand and some places in Europe. In addition, some countries have already closed their borders, which means missionaries cannot come home at this time. This massive return home has already begun and will continue for the next 2-3 weeks. “We have 19,800 missionaries around the globe who are United States citizens and will be returning to the United States,” Elder Christensen said. “And Utah is home to about 12,000 of those missionaries.” All senior couples are returning home unless they are essential to the work and in a quarantined environment. Some, however, are not being released once they get home. Elder Christensen said we have 450 at-home senior couples in Utah. “And we will need them as we gear everything back up!”
Utah is reporting 257 cases of COVID-19, with 11 of those in Utah County. Sadly, the first death in Utah happened over the weekend in Davis County. Our state has administered 5,048 tests for the virus, which means the percentage of positive tests is holding steady at 5 percent. Dr. Angela Dunn, state epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health, said those ages 25-65 are experiencing the same rates of COVID-19. Ten percent of those who test positive are hospitalized (with those over age 65 being hospitalized at a higher rate). The state has not seen exponential growth in the rate of new cases yet, but that is expected in the coming days and weeks.
By the end of the week, Utah will be administering and processing 3,000 tests per day. “This is happening because of the expertise in Silicon Slopes to think broader in terms of solutions,” Senator Mitt Romney said. The state is ramping up to approximately 10,000 tests per day. One idea shared on the Town Hall is to test everyone who arrives at the airport so we don’t increase infection rates with each airplane touching down. “There’s a reason these missionaries are coming home, and it’s not to hang out,” Cox said. “It’s because we have a serious worldwide pandemic on our hands, and we have to act accordingly.” Good news: We don’t have a backlog of tests in Utah that need to be read. And … the University of Utah is opening five drive-thru testing sites. We have stellar scientists here in Utah, with trials going on related to COVID-19 treatments. These studies are in early stages, but help is on the way!
Utah County News!
As part of SlopesServes.com, Utah County is about to get a mobile testing site. Utah County was identified as being behind Salt Lake County in terms of testing resources, so Silicon Slopes is ensuring that Utah County will get this first privately funded mobile testing site. It is anticipated testing will begin on Thursday. Mark Newman of Nomi Health is leading the Silicon Slopes health initiatives. He said, “This is Utah at its best! We have rebuilt supply chains for everything. Our goal is to do 500 tests at this Utah County site this week, and then we will ramp up to 8+ mobile locations soon. We have everything lined up. Now we have to execute it.” Mark’s leadership is remarkable, and he always has detailed slides to show during his Silicon Slopes presentations (see photos). “We are breaking down every barrier we are experiencing,” Mark said. Supplies are being acquired through donations, buy-back programs, and through ordering from suppliers inside and outside the state. Wedding rental companies are being contacted for access to their tents, which can be used for testing and treatment sites. While Mark is leading the health committee, Jeremy Andrus of Traeger Grills heads the economic initiatives for Silicon Slopes. Both of these executives are IMPRESSIVE and confident (but not arrogant) leaders who are liked and trusted by their peers. We are lucky. The best minds with the most applicable experience are stepping up.
Mission Accomplished: Airport Parking Garage Edition
Nobody is happy about the crowds of excited families in close proximity at the airport on Sunday welcoming home sisters and elders from the Philippines. “Our communication to the families was perfect. But the excitement of the families got the best of them,” Elder Christensen said. Because the plan didn’t play out as anticipated, church leaders have met with Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall and others, and problems are being addressed. Each missionary will have one car arrive with no more than two people inside. Families will stay in their cars and wait for their missionary to come to them. Representatives of the church will be at the airport during arrivals to ensure adherence to the plans. On Sunday, five jumbo jets arrived with missionaries. Elder Christensen said the next few days and weeks will see more like 300-350 missionaries per day arriving at the airport. “It’s going better than it shows on the news,” Elder Christensen assured us. Dr. Dunn said, “These are the types of situations that can make things worse, but we don’t yet have evidence that this particular situation has led to more cases. These social distancing measures are going to be a way of life for the next several months, and we will need to find new ways to greet our loved ones.” Little known fact: The airport is run by Salt Lake City — not by the state.
Missionaries Put To Work
Elder Christensen said there are discussions of putting the young adults to work who are returning from missions with their health in tact. Perhaps they could play a role by helping within health-care settings in roles that require minimal training.
Don’t Go Bankrupt
Cox pleaded with us to keep the foundations in place so our economy can ramp back up quickly. “If businesses close, it’s much harder to spin right back up and get going in the future,” he told us. His team wants to help businesses focus on paying their fixed costs (which means expenses they must pay to keep the lights on such as rent payments, etc.) He said banks are more liquid than they were in the 2008 economic debacle and can be more flexible. Banks and credit unions across the country will be be facilitating SBA loans funded by the federal government. “The local banks know who is legit so they will determine who gets the loans,” Sen. Romney said. This money will hopefully be released in the next couple of weeks.
All eyes are on South Korea right now, as they have been the most successful country to face the epidemic. Their strategy includes taking temperatures of everyone entering a grocery story or other public place. If the person’s temperature is above 99 degrees, the person has to be tested for COVID-19. If their temperature is lower than 99, they are allowed to enter. “If we can follow their model, we can get the economy moving as quickly as possible,” Cox said.
Mitt in Quarantine
Sen. Romney sat next to Kentucky Senator Rand Paul at lunch on Thursday and then spoke to him again on Friday. Sen. Paul has since tested positive for COVID-19. “At my age of 73, and the fact that I was four feet away from him for two hours, I was told to get tested and to be quarantined,” said Mitt, who has returned to Utah.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is processing $30 million of humanitarian aid largely through partner organizations. Ten trucks of food are being distributed each day. The church has approved their parking lots to be used as testing stations. There’s also been talk of utilizing church buildings for childcare as a way to support health-care workers. Elder Christensen said this will be possible if it is done by volunteers and not in a for-profit model.
State Doesn’t Want To Make Us Go To Our Rooms
There is no contemplation of stricter health orders being put in place, according to Dr. Dunn.
If you have supplies, time or expertise, please visit www.SlopesServes.com and see how you can help. Seriously, visit this site. It will inspire you as to how to get involved and how others around you are jumping in to help.
President Trump has put FEMA in charge of the implementing the nation’s strategy in facing this war. Dr. Dunn acknowledged that FEMA will be working with the most heavily-impacted and under-prepared states. Utah is not one of those states. Other states will be prioritized for national assistance.
Sen. Romney told the Silicon Slopes Town Hall that the relief packages being designed back east were all-but-done on Saturday night, and then Senate Democrats added elements such as raising the minimum wage and other “corporate social engineering,” Romney says. “Frankly, this is wrong. This is a rescue time.” So legislation is not yet passed. Romney also said $350 billion is being allocated to help small businesses. The provision would loan small businesses 2.5X their monthly payroll amount, which will be forgiven if they maintain the same FTE (full-time equivalent) they had at the time they receive the loan. For individuals, payments of $1,200 per adult and $500 per child are still likely on track to be sent out in the coming weeks.
LG Spencer Cox said the state has discussed utilizing the National Guard for delivery and logistical purposes on the testing front.
Elder Christensen reviewed stats of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which reminds us of the church’s massive worldwide footprint (which creates logistical quagmires but also potential solutions with existing networks and real estate in place). The church is operating in 163 countries and has 16.5 million members in 31,000 congregations. The church owns 20,000 buildings and operates 400 missions. The church has 162 operating temples, 88 of which are now closed including Bountiful that closed yesterday. The rest of the temples are limited to members doing ordinances for themselves (as opposed to doing temple work on behalf of ancestors). All church history sites and visitor centers are closed. “The scope we are dealing with is beyond what most businesses are dealing with. We are following local, state and federal guidelines as we work through our logistics,” Elder Christensen said.
In summary, I love this quote from Nomi Health’s Mark Newman during the Town Hall. “Utah is punching above our weight class. We are the hub of kicking butt around the country.” There’s more to figure out, but after watching our leaders at work, we can rest assured we have strong captains leading the armies in this war against a virus and its economic side effects.