Utah vs. COVID-19: Thursday, April 16, 2020

It’s like a game of Whack-A-Mole, where challenges show up randomly and must be pummeled. First, we had a testing shortage in the state, and we quickly learned increased testing is essential in the fight against COVID-19. So Silicon Slopes started TestUtah and opened mobile testing units. WHACK. Second, a severe shortage of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) was going to put our healthcare workers at risk during the pandemic. Entrepreneur Josh James took the mallet and crushed this challenge by bringing in the first Delta plane yesterday full of high-quality, underpriced items. When all of his scheduled jets land over the next two weeks, he will have brought 8 million pieces of PPE to the Beehive State. This is huge. The game of Whack-A-Mole will likely bring new challenges, but it’s easy to bet on Utah with a history like this. (And by history, I mean the last four weeks. And also the last 173 years of scrappy problem-solving since the first wagons rolled into the valley.)


As of Thursday, April 16, 2020, Utah has 2,683 cases of COVID-19. In the past two days, the state has logged 130 and 141 new cases per day. While this 5 percent growth rate is remarkable compared to other states, it is worse than the numbers we saw earlier in the week when we had days with less than 50 new cases. If you’re a data head, check out the updated dashboard at www.coronavirus.utah.gov with more specific information about regions of the state. We now know Utah County has had 21 hospitalizations and 4 deaths, for example. And we learn that Summit County (Park City) has BY FAR the highest case per capita, with 734 cases per 100,000 people — and yet they have logged 0 deaths.

The Josh Factor 

Sometimes I like to think of our community as a reality TV show, or a miniseries — or maybe a modern-day version of “Gilligan’s Island.” We have strong, one-of-a-kind characters in our Utah “cast,” and perhaps none is as memorable as Josh James. He started MyComputer, which became Omniture, which he sold to Adobe for $1.8 billion. And then he started Domo, took it public and dotted the freeway with sassy billboards. This curly-haired, shiny-pant-wearing father of all girls has a heart as large as his persona. Even though this month hit him hard — his stock dropped and he had to lay off 10 percent of his workforce — he kept his chin up and ran to the problem instead of away from it. Josh watched press conferences where he basically heard President Trump say it was “every state for itself.” And Josh thought: “Why do we have FEMA?? Give me the country. Any entrepreneur in this state can do a better job.” He didn’t like the idea of states being pitted against each other to secure supplies, so he decided to figure out PPE. Josh has been a board member for Stance Socks, which manufactures trendy footwear in China and was started by entrepreneurs with Utah ties. Josh’s friend Taylor Shupe, co-founder of Stance, has been successful in creating factories and manufacturing capabilities in China with his company FutureStitch (this connection is significant because in China, every factory must have at least 51 ownership by Chinese residents). Yadda yadda yadda … Taylor and Josh talk … Taylor knows a Chinese general … and now 8 million pieces of PPE are on their way to Utah. On Wednesday, the first Delta plane landed with the initial shipment of high-quality, low-cost PPE items. Although Josh didn’t PAY for the items (Utah did that), he did leverage his relationships and exchange “about 30 calls with Gov. Herbert” to seal the deal. Many items are costing the state $1.50 when other states are being quoted $7 for the same thing. This significant purchase of 8 million PPE items is part of the 30 million pieces Utah has acquired thanks to public-private partnerships throughout the state. After the first plane arrived and shipments were unloaded, they headed to the Salt Palace where items are being organized and distributed to agencies and hospitals.

Dunkirk Moment

Lieutenant Governor Spencer J. Cox called this our “Dunkirk moment,” referring to a World War II battle depicted in a 2017 movie. “Everybody has brought their boats and come to the rescue — whether that’s Josh and Taylor with millions of PPE or Harmon’s with 15,000 donations or my aunt who is sewing one mask at a time.” Josh loved the Dunkirk comparison and added to it at the Silicon Slopes Town Hall. “Everyone has stepped up. There are some tiny boats, and there are some big leaking boats, and we all brought them.” Josh also described acquiring PPE for the state as a “spike the ball” moment. (See what I mean? He would be incredible on “Gilligan’s Island” or a game of “Survivor.”)

Other States Are Calling

Now Josh and other state leaders are taking calls from 30-40 states wondering how they can get access to masks and gowns. Josh said, “I’m proud to be a Utahn. I have lived 17 places growing up — I was born in North Carolina and I grew up in Chicago. I pull for the Bulls against the Jazz, but I’m Utah first. I’m so proud to live in this state and be part of this community. I didn’t want to make any money on getting these supplies for our state. I’m just doing my part.”


Now back to the data. On Thursday, the one death reported was a male in Salt Lake County who was over 85 and had been a resident of a long-term care facility (all staff and residents are being tested). Utah reported one death on Wednesday who was a male in Salt Lake City over the age of 60. He passed away at a hospital and had underlying conditions.


In total, we have tested 49,678 Utahns, which is an increase of 2,064 and 1,138 in the past two days. Utah is in the top 10 states for per capita testing — in fact, we’ve tested 13,500 individuals per million. Still, we have unmet capacity. We can test 5,000+ a day, so please seek testing if you have even mild symptoms. We need more data. Dr. Angela Dunn said there is a place for asymptomatic testing in this pandemic, and she said the best minds in the state are working on strategies for how to best utilize the extra testing capacities.


During the past month of battling COVID-19, we’ve had a total of 238 hospitalizations, which is an increase of 17 and 8 hospitalizations in the past two days. The age group with the highest hospitalization rate is 25-44 years old, although our 21 deaths are largely in the over 65 age group. The state’s hospitalization rate is about 9 percent. 

Data Summary

So … if you are a Utahn with symptoms that look like COVID, there is a 5 percent chance your test will come back positive. And IF you have COVID, there is a 9 percent chance you’ll need hospitalization as part of your care. And IF you require hospitalization, there is a 10 percent chance you will die from the virus — or at least that the virus will be a contributing factor to your death (nearly all of Utah’s deaths have had underlying conditions that made it more difficult for the body to combat the virus). Translation? It’s very, very unlikely that an otherwise healthy Utahn will contract the virus, be hospitalized and die.

Community Spread

Here’s what we know about the spread of the virus. Seventy-percent of our positive cases can be directly traced to exposure to another COVID-positive person. Eleven percent of our cases are related to travel, although this was primarily at the beginning of the pandemic when people were still going on cruises and airplanes. Four percent of our cases are traced to healthcare facilities, such as our long-term care units. This leaves 15 percent attributed to “community spread,” which means that a person doesn’t know HOW or WHERE they came in contact with the virus … it could’ve been a grocery store, gas station, etc.

Most Infectious

Dr. Dunn said those with COVID-19 are most infectious — most contagious — at the beginning of the disease when they are showing symptoms. Although asymptomatic people can have COVID-19 and spread it to others, they are MOST contagious after they experience symptoms. Scientists are seeking a greater understanding about the timeline of infection and contagion.

Flattening The Curve

Are we flattening the curve? Dr. Dunn said what she is looking for is a slowing of the growth rate for at least two weeks — which is one incubation period of the virus. We also need to see a decline in cases — and at this point, we are seeing an increase in cases every day, even though the rate of increase has NOT been close to exponential. “It might look like we’ve flattened the curve, but we have to wait longer to see trends while we continue our social distancing measures,” Dr. Dunn said. 

Utah’s Fair Share

So now let’s talk PPP — Paycheck Protection Program. This is the federal stimulus that pays small companies their payroll costs for 2.5 months, and it can be forgiven if certain stipulations are met. As of today, the $350 billion is gone. Allocated. Gonzo. And yet only a small percentage of the nation’s small businesses got funded. And the federal government is fighting about whether to replenish the funds. Utah’s “fair share” of the pie would be just over 1 percent of the total stimulus money. Silicon Slopes’ latest survey showed 59 precent of small businesses in Utah have applied, but the goal is 100 percent so we can save jobs and fuel the economy. (Remember when we were the No. 1 state for economic growth in the country? That was so last year. And it will be “so next year” as well.) 

Antibody Test To Look Into

Medsential, with offices in Salt Lake City and China, has an antibody test that detects exposure to COVID-19 within minutes. Supplies are headed to Utah from China but they are encountering barriers. These tests can only be administered by point-of-care providers for now. Read more about this exciting development on medsential.com.

Drug Worth Reading About

Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox said the state has been following this research on treatment for COVID-19 on statnews.com. 

Shake Shack

Today was the annual Great Utah ShakeOut, which is normally the day schools hold earthquake drills. Today, the earth gave a real life shake with a 4.2 magnitude aftershock originating in the Magna area. This is considered one of the hundreds of aftershocks from the Mach 18th earthquake that hit 5.7 on the Richter scale here in Utah adding to the chaos and fear of the coronavirus pandemic. For more information about how to be prepared — and how Utah is preparing — visit shakeout.org/utah/.

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