Utah to move into next phase of coronavirus plan, state leaders confirm

May 20, 2020, 1:50 PM | Updated: May 21, 2020, 12:46 pm
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File photo: Steve Griffin, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah is ready to move into its next phase of Utah Leads Together, its coronavirus response plan, Gov. Gary Herbert announced Wednesday, confirming reports you first heard from KSL NewsRadio

“We’re doing very well as a state,” Herbert told reporters in a weekly briefing aimed at updating the situation. “We’ve been able to save lives. We’ve been able to slow the spread.” 

But as the state looks toward its next steps, Herbert said state leaders want to protect people who are at higher risk for COVID-19 infection. 

“We are very concerned about the vulnerable populations,” Herbert said, adding 90% of those who have died in Utah are over the age of 65 and also have underlying health conditions. 

“Our hearts break for those loved ones of people out there that have passed away, and we recognize the challenge that we’ve all faced because of this pandemic,” he said.  

Utah Leads Together 3.0 

The third phase of Utah’s coronavirus response plan focuses on protections for the elderly, people with underlying medical conditions, and minority populations, but also addresses re-opening Utah’s economy. 

Herbert said he was pleased by how quickly Utah was able to transition from “red” to “orange,” and now — mostly — “yellow.” 

“We’ve done that in remarkably good time. Where we once thought it would take eight weeks… we’ve done it in five weeks,” he said.  

But state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn said health officials in Utah clearly still have work to do. 

New numbers released Wednesday recorded two additional COVID-19 deaths in the state, both in residents over the age of 60. 

Dunn said age, residing in a long-term care facility and having underlying health conditions all add to someone’s risk for COVID-19. She urged healthy people with lower risk to wear masks to help protect those people. 

“It’s really important that we continue to take action to protect those at severe risk due to COVID-19,” Dunn said. 

She urged people considered in a high risk category to continue social distancing and practice good hand-washing hygiene.  

New multicultural emphasis 

State officials announced a new emphasis on the disease’s impact among minorities as part of Utah Leads Together 3.0. 

“This pandemic is not impacting all Utahns’ lives and livelihoods equally,” said Byron Russell, co-chair of the Utah Multicultural Commission. 

For example, the rate of COVID-19 infections among the Latinx population in Utah does not match the proportion of Latinx residents in the state. Russell said the same disparity affects other populations of color in Utah. 

Therefore, Utah Leads Together’s next phase of coronavirus response planning devotes more resources toward addressing that disparity, Russell said. 

Natalie Gochnour, director of the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah, said Utah Leads Together 3.0 zeroes in on those concerns. 

“It helps us understand how to safeguard our multicultural communities,” she said. 

Poised for economic recovery

A think-tank out of Philadelphia, The Pew Charitable Trusts, said Utah and Minnesota are better positioned than any other states in the country to emerge from the pandemic’s economic effects, Herbert said, based on an analysis of those states’ rainy-day funds in 2019

“I think version 3.0 offers a bold vision of what we can do to in fact accelerate our economic opportunities as we move forward,” Herbert said.  

“I have a sense that our unemployment rate will be lower than the national average” when the latest numbers come out on Friday, Herbert added. 

Gochnour said Utah fares much better than its counterparts nationwide when it comes to measurements like unemployment claims, which she says have declined for five consecutive weeks. 

“Let’s be clear. This is a massive economic challenge,” she said. “The economic response task force recommends that we recover to better: that is, to take what we have to get to an even better place.” 

She outlined a five-part plan to boost Utah’s economy. The five parts include speed – trying to get Utahns back to work quickly; targeted – focusing on the areas of greatest need; flexibility – the ability to adapt to changing needs; permanent benefit – looking for economic improvements that will leave Utah better positioned in the future than we have been in the past; and innovation – looking to boost the economy in new and creative ways.

“The economic response team believes we’re at the beginning of something new and better for our state,” Gochnour added.  

How To Prevent the Spread of COVID-19 Coronavirus

COVID-19 coronavirus spreads person to person. It is a virus that is similar to the common cold and the flu. So, to prevent it from spreading:

  • Wash hands frequently and thoroughly, with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds.
  • Don’t touch your face.
  • Keep children and those with compromised immune systems away from someone who is coughing or sneezing (in this instance, at least six feet)
  • If there is an outbreak near you, practice social distancing (stay at home, instead of going to the movies, sports events, or other activities.)
  • Get a flu shot.

Local resources

KSL Coronavirus Q&A 

Utah’s Coronavirus Information 

Utah State Board of Education

Utah Hospital Association

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Utah Coronavirus Information Line – 1-800-456-7707

National Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Commonly asked questions, World Health Organization

Cases in the United States

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Utah to move into next phase of coronavirus plan, state leaders confirm