UTAH vs. COVID-19: Monday, April 13, 2020

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Whether it’s because of social distancing, a nondenominational global fast, or lower-than-expected testing rates, Utah’s numbers looked amazing today! Only 60 new cases of COVID-19 were reported on Monday, which is a 3 percent growth rate. Also, the state expanded the list of symptoms from three to six — and they want to test ANYONE with ANY of the six symptoms. 

Data

These numbers have a “flattening” look to them. Dr. Angela Dunn, the state epidemiologist, announced today’s numbers at the 1:30 p.m. press conference. Utah only had 60 new cases of COVID-19 and no additional deaths. The 60 new cases brings our total case count to 2,363. The total number tested is 45,786, which is an increase of 1,553 from the day before. She also reported 201 have required a hospitalization during the month-long COVID caper. 

OK, So That Didn’t Go As Planned

On Friday at 12:37 p.m., Utah started sending text messages to cars entering our borders from Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona and Nevada. The short text asked them to comply with the governor’s order to share their travel history and health details. Today (Monday) at 12:17 p.m., that initiative was canceled because it was inadvertently sending messages to the wrong people, such as residents who live near state borders. Some reported getting as many as 30 messages — including while they were in their bathrooms. (I’m picturing both anger and humor in the complaints being filed with the state on this topic.) So the state ended that strategy and now is asking travelers via digital message boards on the side of the road to go to entry.utah.gov and share their information. Utah was the first state to attempt to survey people entering their borders, and more than 10,000 people clicked to the website. I applaud Utah for being innovative in their approach to COVID-19, and I applaud them a second time for realizing this part of the strategy wasn’t working.

Sorry ‘Bout That

The state’s message of “we have plenty of tests … come on down” hasn’t been jiving with people’s actual experiences. Many have been denied testing despite having symptoms. The state desperately wants anyone with any symptoms to get tested. The free tests available from TestUtah and other providers have been adapted to acknowledge this looser definition of testing criteria. The state is trying to remove any barriers that are contributing to the low testing numbers.

Six Symptoms

If you have ANY of these six symptoms, the state wants to see you swabbed.
  1. Fever
  2. Cough
  3. Shortness of breath
  4. Muscle aches and pains (new criteria as of today)
  5. A decreased sense of taste and smell (new criteria as of today)
  6. Sore throat (new criteria as of today)
“Please seek testing if you have any of these six symptoms so we can capture the true burden of COVID-19 in our state,” Dr. Dunn said. 

Recovery

The state now has decided on a definition of “recovered”: Anyone who was diagnosed more than three weeks ago and has not passed away. With these parameters, the state has 218 who have recovered.

Antibodies

Everyone’s favorite topic right now is when antibody tests will be available so we can find out who has already overcome the virus and developed immunity. Utah-based ARUP is working on an antibody that could be available in the coming weeks. Dr. Dunn said there is still research being done to determine the maximum usefulness of the tests. Mark Newman of Nomi Health (leader of the Silicon Slopes Health initiatives) called antibody testing “the Wild West right now.” He has been researching products and devices around the globe, and some of what he’s found is concerning. He said the UK purchased 3.5 million antibody tests that ended up not being valid. Some tests on the market are finding antibodies but they aren’t specific to COVID-19. He encouraged consumers to be patient and wait for validated products before purchasing.

School’s Out Scream and Out

In order to start ringing school bells again, Dr. Dunn said we need to see a steady decline in the growth rate of cases and we need to maintain our capacity to test anyone who needs it. In addition, she said the state is monitoring where people are getting the disease. If we can’t identify a cause (such as travel or exposure to a COVID-positive person), this is an indication that social distancing is still needed in our state to combat “community spread” (in other words, getting the virus from just being in the community).

Mo’ Money, Less Problems

Val Hale of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development announced a second round of state-funded loans for businesses with fewer than 50 employees. These are small loans — $5,000 to $20,000 — with awesome terms such as 0 percent for 5 years, with the first loan payment not due for a year. In the first round, $6.1 million was awarded to 502 businesses. Round two opened today and will close Thursday at noon. The total to be given out this week is $5.9 million, thanks in part to the Workers Compensation Fund. You can find more information at coronavirus.utah.gov.

Test Utah Is Setting The Standard

The Silicon Slopes masterminds behind TestUtah have been chatting with other states and sharing what they’ve learned as they’ve ramped up four mobile test sites (Provo, Orem, Heber City, South Ogden) with more in the works. About 70,000 have taken the assessment at their website so far. This isn’t a “one and done” website. We are being encouraged to return to the website and update our symptoms so the Utah Department of Health will have additional data points of how the virus spreads.

Check Is In The Mail

Representative Ben McAdams (who spent 8 days in the hospital battling COVID-19) said Utahns should be seeing their checks of $1,200 per adult and $500 per child this week. If you filed taxes in 2018 or 2019, the government has your information and will send you the money. (These benefits phase out if you make $75,000 as a single person or $150,000 when filing jointly.) 

PPP is a Ventilator

Rep. McAdams described the Paycheck Protection Program as a ventilator to help the economy (small businesses) breathe until they can breathe on their own. Some of this money started rolling into the bank accounts of entrepreneurs in the past couple days. The rollout of the PPP program didn’t go as smoothly as many hoped. And the two chapters yet to be written are A) Whether the Senate and House will approve a second batch of money so there’s enough for all who qualify … and B) How the loan forgiveness will work exactly. “I’m disappointed to see political posturing from both sides. It’s like a game of chicken, and both sides are splashing mud on each other in the process,” Rep. McAdams said of the process of getting PPP approved. 

Mental Health

Here are a couple of resources for mental health. First, a hotline: 1-801-587-3000. Also, check out the SafeUT app to access mental health counseling. This pandemic is not just about viruses — it’s also about the exacerbation of mental health concerns. Please reach out when you need help. There’s no shame in being honest about what we’re facing.

Get Smart

Aaron Skonnard, CEO of PluralSight, encouraged the Silicon Slopes community to use this time to prepare for a career rebound. To this end, PluralSight is offering free access to its educational resources for the month of April. Check out their site for chances to learn more about AI, machine learning, cybersecurity, etc. “Many companies can’t fill their current openings in these critical areas,” Skonnard said. He also shared leadership lessons of being “obsessive about your priorities and your focus” during this time. And he reminded us that leadership doesn’t have to come from the CEO or the VPs.
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