I’ve been writing updates and posting them on Facebook (approx. 4-5 per week) since March 16, 2020. Yesterday, they deemed my posts inappropriate and in violation of community standards. Fortunately, all of my updates are stored here on UtahValley360.com.
As of Saturday, April 11, Utah has 18 deaths related to COVID-19 (5 new deaths this week). We’ve had 2,206 positive test results for the virus, and that is based on a total number tested of 42,546 (holding at 5 percent of those tested come back positive). As a state, we are at 190 who’ve needed hospitalization for COVID-19 (doesn’t represent the current number under hospital care). About half of those hospitalized have needed an ICU bed as part of their care.
In the past two days, we’ve had daily increases of 104 (reported on Saturday) and 126 cases (reported on Friday). The new counts are posted every day by 1 p.m. on coronavirus.utah.gov. The average daily growth rate this past week has been about 6.5 percent a day. In the previous week, the rate of increase was 13.2 percent. And the week before that, we were at a growth rate of 24 percent. This trend is our friend.
On Friday, the state reported four deaths and on Saturday one more was added to the very sad tally. Of the four deaths reported on Friday, Dr. Angela Dunn said all four were males over age 60. Three were residents of Salt Lake County — and two of them were in different long-term care facilities (these are facilities where there was already a known outbreak, which I’ve mentioned in previous updates). The fourth death reported on Friday was a Utah County resident who was hospitalized prior to death. The death reported on Saturday was a Utah County man who had been in ICU for two weeks with COVID-19, but had been released and posted an upbeat Facebook post one day before his death (pictured above.)
Masks and Heroes
This is cool. Check out this new website that gives us a way to help make medical-grade masks for healthcare workers. “Project Protect” is a collaboration between Latter-day Saint Charities, Intermountain Healthcare, and University of Utah Health. This is a perfect way to be productive while you stay safe at home!
Utah County Commissioner Nathan Ivie said Utah County Dispatch is reporting a 75 percent increase in domestic violence calls since the social distancing measures began. “This is not good news and exactly why we are trying to consider all aspects of public health in our response to COVID-19,” Nathan tweeted. With added stress of unemployment, health concerns and lack of normalcy, domestic violence in all forms is a huge concern, and local leaders are taking these families into account as they decide when/how to relax the Stay Safe Stay Home directive. (Pray for the children — and their mothers!)
Utah is saying loud and clear that we have the capacity to test all patients with symptoms consistent with COVID-19. The test for COVID-19 is uncomfortable and involves a long, sophisticated Q-tip-ish item being inserted into your nose to retrieve a specimen. Dr. Dunn says other tests are being developed across the country, but so far none of them have the same standard of accuracy. Rest assured that scientists and entrepreneurs are working to get rapid testing — and less invasive options — ready for us in the coming weeks. We’re consistently testing below our capacity. Yesterday, 1,784 were tested. The day before, we had 2,257 tests reported.
Symptoms, Any Symptoms
In the distant past (last week), testing supplies were limited — and only those with symptoms (plural) consistent with COVID-19 were tested. At the Friday press conference, it was made clear that if anyone has ONE of the symptoms — cough, fever, shortness of breath — they should be tested. Even mild symptoms. The state wants to know as much as possible about Utahns and their exposure to the virus. So get tested! Intermountain is doing an excellent job with their website and multiple testing locations. And #TestUtah has an assessment and easy-to-use interface for scheduling a free test if the assessment says you need one.
Masks Are In
Dr. Dunn is encouraging us to wear homemade or cloth masks in situations where social distancing is not possible — such as a pharmacy or grocery store. Dr. Dunn tweeted a pic of her mom and the homemade mask she made for her epidemiologist daughter. Wearing a mask is mostly to prevent us from spreading the virus — even if we’re asymptomatic. “We’ve identified that asymptomatic spread is not only likely — it’s probable,” Dr. Dunn said. “If someone is wearing a mask, it helps to keep them from spreading the virus.”
Several organizations are posting models (or projections) of how this pandemic will play out. Dr. Dunn said she and her colleagues are of the opinion that “no model is perfect, but some are useful.” They are gleaning information and making the best decisions each day. With only a few weeks of data to look at, it’s impossible to tell when we’ll reach the peak. But Dr. Dunn, Governor Herbert and Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox regularly get asked when the peak is coming. THEY. DON’T. KNOW. But they are watching the statistics and taking many factors into account for both the health and economic impacts of the pandemic. Dr. Dunn said on Friday we might have “several weeks or a few months” of social distancing ahead of us.
Slow The Roll
How are we going to restart normal life safely? Governor Herbert said finding the right timing for the economic recovery while maintaining our progress in the fight against coronavirus is like threading a needle — “We’re trying to have our health recovery and economic recovery work in concert with each other,” he said. Here’s a link to a Harvard Business Review article that outlines some ideas. And LG Cox said Utah has been “working on something similar for several weeks now.”
Will They Test All Of Us?
Dr. Dunn said she was on a call with the CDC to discuss the potential approach of doing randomized testing of Americans (even those who aren’t sick and aren’t considering taking a test). “There is utility in understanding how much disease spread there is in a community, but these approaches are still in the planning phases and we would work with all of our partners to figure out the best way to do that,” she said.
Coming to Utah? Take This Survey
Starting Friday, April 10, at 12:37 p.m., everyone entering Utah’s borders via roadways received a 90-character text message from the state asking them to be in compliance by voluntarily filling out a survey about their travel history, symptoms and COVID-19 test results. We are the first state to deploy a wireless emergency alert related to coronavirus, according to the Utah Division of Emergency Management. Starting on Friday at 7 a.m., similar surveys were being given via postcards with QR codes to passengers arriving in the Salt Lake airport. The purpose of this is to gather information, trace the spread of the virus, and to ask those who have been exposed to isolate themselves. This does not stop anyone from coming into the state. The state borders are not manned by state officials. In southwest Utah, the state is sending these texts in the Virgin River area (outside the state borders) in an effort to keep the alert out of residential areas where people could be pinged regularly (and annoyingly). The software supposedly will only send the message to a phone once, but the emergency alert is only active for 24 hours. So a new alert will be issued each day, which means that the same car would likely get the message each day they cross the border (but hopefully not multiple times if they cross the border again and again in one day).
The following people do NOT have to answer the questions sent via text (or postcard if arriving in the airport): commercial airline employees, commercial carrier drivers (think “truckers”), public safety personnel, active military, healthcare providers, and those who cross the border daily because they work/live on separate sides of the state border. Because the system casts a geographic net and doesn’t know who is in each car and whether they fit the list of exemptions, these people will likely still get a text notification like everyone else. They can ignore it. “We’ve been working with the trucking industry, and we are sympathetic and don’t want to inhibit commerce going back and forth, especially right now with the increased demands on our supply chains,” said Commissioner Jess Anderson of the Utah Department of Public Safety.
Survey workers at the airport are working in twos and wearing gloves/masks from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. as they distribute postcards with instructions. One significant benefit to gathering this data is that if someone on an airplane is identified as having COVID-19, the state will have the ability to track others who were on the plane to notify them. “This will allow the Utah Department of Health to work with the airlines to identify and trace those who have come in contact with a COVID-19 -positive individual,” Anderson said. “Once that notification is made, the other passengers can make the decision to self-isolate so they aren’t spreading the virus to their loved ones.”
One of the latest social media debates is whether these surveys represent an invasion of privacy or an unconstitutional step. State leaders talked us through this at the press conference. They reminded us that we are in a state of emergency and this is a public health necessity. In addition, the software doesn’t track our data. They said the state won’t know how many people receive that message and therefore can’t take action against anyone who does not choose to participate. The data collected is given securely to the Utah Department of Health so they can track and trace the movement of those with coronavirus who come in our state borders.
We’re eager to know more about how many in people have had COVID-19 and are recovered — and not contagious. This is a difficult number to ascertain. Dr. Dunn said there is no nationally accepted standard definition of “recovered.” In Utah, where 90 percent of our positive cases don’t require a high level of medical care, tracking these positives becomes difficult. The state is considering adopting a definition of recovery as being three weeks after diagnosis and still being alive and not hospitalized.
The Paycheck Protection Program sounded too good to be true, and so far that’s kinda the case for most Utah businesses. The federal government created the PPP to cover payroll for 2.5 months for small businesses (under 500 employees … which is 90 percent of the businesses in the United States). But our best financial minds and 24/7 efforts haven’t resulted in cash flowing into our state borders. YET. The United States has 30 million small business owners, and so far they have funded 400,000 business owners. Translation? If you’re a small business owner and haven’t received your PPP money yet, you are in the same boat with almost everyone else. In addition to our SBA lenders such as banks and credit unions, local companies Lendio and Divvy are two marketplaces/agents that are aligning businesses with lenders and have slick application processes.
Utah is the Place
U.S. News & World Report said Utah and Minnesota are among the states best prepared for the coronavirus economic upheaval. This list was based on states that have healthy rainy day funds; have flexible legislatures that aren’t tied down by onerous restrictions; have avoided unsustainable budgeting and haven’t enacted steep tax cuts or steep increases in spending recently; and conduct “budgetary stress tests” which means we think through a range of economic scenarios and enact plans accordingly. Good job, Utah! This designation comes from years of smart thinking and long-term thinking.
The CDC is showing nationally that black Americans are hospitalized and dying at a disproportionately high rate. Utah’s death toll is only at 18, which makes it difficult to draw conclusions and declare demographic trends for who is dying. But Dr. Dunn did say that by next week she’s hoping to have data she can share publicly that will outline the demographics of positive tests, hospitalizations and deaths in Utah. In Utah, men are contracting the virus and dying at higher rates than females. More info to come.
Capitol Reef held out the longest, but now all five of our national parks are closed.
Schools Opening Again
Gov. Herbert said he is meeting with the State Superintendent Sydney Dickson and Mark Huntsman of the State School Board and will have an announcement next week “about what we will do or not do” in regards to getting students back in classrooms.
Fast and Prayer
Thousands of Utahns and possibly millions of people around the world fasted on Good Friday for deity to help soften the pandemic, to help the healthcare workers, and to help us curb the economic impact. Gov. Herbert said, “Many people are fasting and uniting in prayer and supplication to ask the heavens to give us a blessing — this blessing might come in the form of courage, understanding or enlightenment. The blessing might eliminate suffering and help us find ways to improve our medical treatments and to find cures. We would like to have some miracles take place. We have many blessings to be thankful for, and we are thankful for the blessings we have received as a state.”