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Utah: Latest updates on coronavirus

park city, Utah
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Last updated March 29 at 1 p.m. ET.

As of Saturday (March 28), Utah has confirmed 602 cases of COVID-19, says the state health department, putting the state in the lower half of the list of states with the most U.S. coronavirus cases. The state has tested at least 11,312 people so far.

State epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn said in a press conference on Wednesday (March 25) that the state's rate of finding new cases has slowed, suggesting that social distancing might be having an effect. However, cases are still rising by 16 percent a day, Dunn said on Thursday (March 26). The state is looking at establishing temporary hospital facilities in order to avoid being overwhelmed by new COVID-19 cases, she said.

Utah has seen two reported coronavirus deaths. The first occurred on Sunday, March 22. The victim was a man older than sixty, according to ABC4. The second was a woman younger than 60 from Southwest Utah who died on March 26, according to the county health department.

Utah Governor Gary Herbert issued voluntary guidance asking Utahans to stay at home on Friday (March 26). The same day, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall signed an emergency order mandating that city residents stay at home for all but necessary activities, The Salt Lake Tribune reported. Also on Friday, the National Park Service announced that Arches and Canyonlands national parks would be closing to all visitors beginning Saturday (March 28). 

On Wednesday (March 25), the Navajo Nation, which spans parts of Arizona, Utah and New Mexico, announced a stay-at-home order, The Salt Lake City Tribune reported. So did Summit County, Utah, which has 20 times the cases per capita of Salt Lake City, according to the county health director. Summit County's order goes into effect on Friday.

On Tuesday (March 24), Utah governor Gary Herbert halted elective surgeries in the state to free up hospital resources for COVID-19 patients. Previously, Utah closed public schools on March 16 until at least March 30, a closure that was extended to May 1 on Monday (March 23). On Friday (March 20), the state board of education waived requirements for a 180-day school year and suspended state testing. State universities and colleges have also canceled classes or moved them online. On March 18, the Utah System of Higher Education announced that it would cancel or postpone all graduation ceremonies for state colleges and universities, the Salt Lake City Tribune reported. On March 20, Utah announced the postponement of all jury trials until at least June 1. 

On Wednesday (March 25), the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints announced that all of its temples would close beginning Thursday, The Salt Lake Tribune reported. This followed a suspension of Church gatherings worldwide, including the 20,000 person General Conference that normally takes place in April, local radio station KUER reported. On Tuesday (March 17), the Church announced that it is temporarily closing its Goodwill-like chain of thrift stores, Deseret Industries. On March 20, the Church announced that many of its missionaries, scattered around the globe, would be returning home and would be asked to isolate for 14 days upon arrival. On Sunday (March 22), though, footage of large groups of people welcoming returning missionaries drew criticism from state officials. "Really disappointed in the behavior we saw from missionary families in the SLC airport tonight," tweeted Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox. "I get it, I've been there (and still have a child serving), but this is unacceptable. In a time of shared sacrifices, we must do better to save lives. #SocialDistancing."

Businesses in the state have been hard-hit by coronavirus containment measures. On Monday, March 16, Salt Lake County banned in-person dining at bars and restaurants; the next day, Utah Governor Gary Herbert expanded that ban to the entire state for at least two weeks beginning Wednesday, March 18, Deseret News reported.

Outdoor activities have also been curtailed. The state's ski areas began shutting down on Sunday, March 15, according to Salt Lake Magazine. Meanwhile, the Southeast Utah Health Department has closed gyms, theaters and other gathering places in Grand, Emery and Carbon counties, which host popular spring tourist destinations like Arches National Park.

Utah's COVID-19 response was complicated on Wednesday, March 18 by a magnitude 5.7 earthquake that hit near Magna shortly after 7 a.m. local time. The shaking was felt in Salt Lake City. The state's coronavirus hotline was temporarily suspended while state buildings were evacuated, according to the health department. Some state labs were briefly closed for damage assessment, but coronavirus testing continued at many locations, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.

On Sunday, March 21, Utah Senator Mitt Romney was ordered to self-quarantine due to contact with Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), who has tested positive for coronavirus. He was cleared from quarantine on Wednesday (March 25), after testing negative for the virus, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.

On Wednesday, March 18, Rep. Ben McAdams (D-Utah) reported that he has tested positive for the new coronavirus, making him the second member of Congress to test positive. He was hospitalized on Sunday, March 22, and was released on Saturday, March 28. On Friday, March 20, a Salt Lake City councilman, Darin Mano, said he had also tested positive, according to the Salt Lake City Tribune. Utah Senator Luz Escamilla also announced on Sunday (March 22) that she had tested positive for the virus.

Some of the most famous Utah residents to test positive for the virus are Utah Jazz players Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert. As a result, the National Basketball Association (NBA) has canceled the remainder of the season.

Cases by health district:

  • Bear River - 8
  • Central Utah - 0
  • Davis County - 59
  • Salt Lake County - 279
  • San Juan - 1
  • Southeast Utah - 0
  • Southwest Utah - 14
  • Summit County - 135
  • Tooele County - 8
  • Tri County - 1
  • Utah County - 31
  • Wasatch County - 37
  • Weber-Morgan county - 29

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Originally published on Live Science.