UPDATE FOR WEDNESDAY, MARCH 25, 2020: During this afternoon’s Silicon Slopes Town Hall, Summit County (Park City) announced a “shelter from home” order — then we learned in real time that Governor Herbert supported it. Colorado instigated a “shelter from home” order during the Zoom discussion as well, and Idaho had done the same thing two hours previous. Things are changing quickly. Here are 15 things I learned today.
SHELTER IN PLACE: Dr. Angela Dunn, the state’s epidemiologist, says the state is actively having conversations about sheltering from home and re-evaluating what the next steps should be. She called Summit County’s shelter-from-home announcement “a prudent step.” As the state considers “shelter from home” measures statewide, they are taking into consideration that some areas of the state have zero cases (such as San Juan and Central Utah), while Salt Lake County has 154 and Summit County has 97. Utah County has 19. (All of these numbers are a combination of residents and visitors in each area.) “A huge reason we are seeing a lower case count than other states is that we’re coming together as a community and being disciplined with social distancing,” Dr. Dunn said. Senate President Stuart Adams told Silicon Slopes, “Sheltering in place would be a last resort in my mind.”
DATA: Utah now has 346 cases of COVID-19 based on 6,837 tests. (Dr. Dunn also noted there is a three-day delay on getting the most reliable data because it can take that long for test results to come back.) Utah is still holding at about 5 percent of tests coming back positive, and about 10 percent of COVID-19 patients needing hospitalization. Interesting fact! We have 4,630 hospital beds in the state. Dr. Dunn said we have not had a Utah health-care worker contract COVID-19 after caring for a COVID-19 patient. (Insert all the “thumbs up” and smiley emojis for that detail.)
WE KNOW SOME STUFF ABOUT WHO IS GETTING SICK: Dr. Dunn reported that 85 percent of Utah’s 346 cases have been traced back to the point of infection, which they have found to either be travel-related or exposure to another person in the state with COVID-19. Dr. Michael Good estimated that 50 percent of our cases are from travel outside of Utah. What does this mean? If you haven’t traveled and you haven’t been exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19, you have a statistically low chance at this point of having the virus.
TESTING: Our state’s testing capacity is at 2,600 a day and we are ramping up to 3,000 a day by the end of the week. However, Dr. Dunn said we haven’t been testing at capacity the past few days. In other words, we could’ve tested more people than we actually have. With state leaders repeatedly saying testing is essential so we have more data and can make better decisions, it’s odd and ironic we aren’t gathering the maximum amount of data every day. Many are saying it’s still difficult to get tested, but the state has relaxed the guidelines on who should be given a test (anyone with a fever, cough and shortness of breath). Mark Newman, CEO of Nomi Health, went as far as “calling BS” on the idea that testing is widely available. He conducted a quick poll of everyone on the call and found that 65 percent would like to take a COVID-19 test if it was clear how to get tested. Here’s a little more math … even if we did 70,000 tests per week in this state, it would take nearly a year to test every Utahn.
STATE SENATOR. Utah Senate President Stuart Adams is keenly aware of the balance the state must strike in terms of health and viability of our economy. “If we lose businesses in the state, we’re going to have psychological and emotional issues and even deaths by suicide. We have to balance what we do medically with what we do economically,” he said. The legislature will have a special session to deal with the economic issues, which will affect the state’s budget. Silicon Slopes director Clint Betts asked Stuart about using the state’s “Rainy Day Fund.” Stuart said, “We have a rainy day fund, but we don’t have a typhoon or hurricane fund to solve all of the state’s problems. This is the biggest economic problem we’ve had since the Great Depression.” Senator Derek Kitchen was also on the call and told us he personally had to furlough 30 employees. Our state leaders have “eyes wide open” to the economic fallout.
FLASH BACK TO 9/11: Dr. Good reminded the Silicon Slopes Town Hall participants that after 9/11, our processes of traveling began to change. We were limited in the ounces of liquids we could travel with. We couldn’t greet our family members at the gate. We adjusted to these changes and it became the new normal. Similarly, we need new normals so that tourism can continue to be a strong part of our economy and our way of life as Utahns. “We need ways of identifying people with corona right away. We are getting there, but we will need to continually focus on processes that get the right people isolated,” Dr. Good said.
ECONOMISTS ARE ROCKSTARS: We’re looking to economists to help us learn from the past and apply sound principles. One of the state’s most well-respected economists — Natalie Gochnour, director of the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah — said positivity about the future is key. “Look for any way you can to be part of the recovery,” she said. She reminded us that after the Olympics, we had an economic slowdown. Jobs contracted in the state, which means we had fewer jobs than we had the previous year. In the past two decades we have endured the dot-com meltdown and the Great Recession, after which we experienced the longest expansion in our state and national history. ”Markets correct, and we adapt,” she said. “But we don’t know if that will be 6 months, 9 months or two years.”
SLOPESSERVES: SlopesServes.com has helped the state source 2 million pieces of needed equipment through donations and buy-back programs. For example, as hysteria set in the past two weeks, some companies purchased more sanitizer and bleach wipes than they needed. The state has been “buying back” supplies, which gives these businesses needed cashflow as well. This same collaborative magic has been happening with testing. The business community has lined up lab and clinical partners. Mark Newman himself has been a “guinea pig” and tried out different COVID-19 tests, and one of the main things he learned is the power of the negative result. “The amount of peace of mind it brings when it comes up negative is significant. Getting tests — and having them be negative — instills confidence back in workers, employees and businesses. If we can solve testing, we can get the economy back on track because we’ll know who needs to isolate and who doesn’t,” he said. The mobile testing site enabled by SlopesServes.com conducted its first tests today in Utah County.
PPE NOT YET A PROBLEM. Currently, Utah is not experiencing a shortage of Personal Protective Equipment. Many donations have come in and elective procedures needing PPE have dropped to essentially zero. But PPE is still needed for the expected spike in the coming days and weeks. If you have PPE to donate, see www.coronavirus.utah.gov or slopes serves.com. No hand-made items are being accepted.
SOFTWARE PARALLELS: Mark Newman described parallels between the software industry 20 years ago and health care today. In the early 2000s, Windows was a closed-loop system that involved licenses and must-use components. Linux, AWS (Amazon Web Services) and others broke open the industry with open-source approaches, and the days of proprietary software and technology changed. “We need to ‘open source’ healthcare,” Mark said. One of the barriers in testing and lab work is that some of the pieces to the puzzle have been locked into closed-loop systems. Critical dependencies were uncovered. Translation? The way some health-care supplies have been designed and sold don’t allow for other “brands” to be part of the same supply chain, and this has created barriers that affect consumers.
LEARN FROM NEW YORK: Twelve days ago, New York had 421 positive tests (similar to our 346 in our state right now). If we did continue to follow New York’s exponential growth curve from March 13 to March 25, this could mean we would have 12,300+ cases in Utah in 12 days (New York’s 8.6 million population compared to our 3 million is taken into account as part of this calculation). The goal is that our social distancing measures will ensure this exponential spoke doesn’t happen. But let’s be honest. This is scary math.
LEARN FROM SOUTH KOREA: Mark pointed out that right now we have about 1 testing capacity per day per 1,000 Utahns, which is on par with South Korea that had 20,000 tests per day, or 1 test per 2,500 residents (South Korea has 50 million residents). South Korea is widely seen as the country that has handled COVID-19 with the most success.
ROMNEY IS SAFE AND TRUMP IS “HAPPY”: President Trump tweeted after hearing that Mitt Romney’s test for COVID-19 came back negative. “This is really great news! I am so happy I can barely speak. He may have been a terrible presidential candidate and an even worse U.S. Senator, but he is a RINO, and I like him a lot!” (RINO stands for “Republican In Name Only”) No commentary needed from me. Except to say that however many seconds Trump spent writing this tweet during a pandemic might have been better spent. (Oops. Didn’t mean to comment.)
WE FEEL YOU. Jeremy Andrus, CEO of Traeger Grills (and formerly of Skull Candy fame), leads the economic committee for Silicon Slopes. “Our goal is not to repeat the work that the governor and his task force are going, but we want to work together and use our relationship with the community,” Jeremy said. “We want to let business leaders know what resources are available to them from federal and state sources. Business patterns and consumer patters have changed.”
WARNING TO TECH: Mark said tech companies will be tempted to take advantage of this new climate and find gimmicky ways of making money. “We have an opportunity to create a black eye on the tech community if we let natural instincts lead us to take advantage of others,” he warned.
MIC DROP The ever-quotable Mark Newman said, “We’re all friends. Let’s lock arms and go after it.”
CLICKABLES: If you can’t get enough of reading about coronavirus, check out these local sites: