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Officials: 9 Utahns, 5 Utah tourists have COVID-19; community spread makes hygiene, social-distancing ‘critically important’

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Update: Ten additional Utah case of COVID-19 were confirmed Saturday evening by the Davis County (one case) and Salt Lake County (nine cases) health departments.

County Health Department and the University of Utah.

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, March 14, 2020 (Gephardt Daily) — Utah health officials shared details and strong recommendations at a Saturday morning news conference after COVID-19 “community spread,” which means the first patient has been identified who has no recent travel to areas of high infection and no known contact to anyone infected with the disease.

The first community spread patient is an employee of the Spur Bar & Grill, located on Main Street in Park City. The man, whose age is between 18 and 60, works near the front door of the establishment, which can attract hundreds of patrons on a typical night, Dr. Rich Bullough told reporters.

His interaction with customers was brief, and officials are more concerned about the meetings the staff held prior to each opening, at which the patient would have had more extended contact with 20 or so other employees.

“This confirmed community spread case really changes the picture,” Bullough said.

The Spur has closed, voluntarily, and has contracted with cleaners certified to do deep cleans. Utah Department of Health officials are monitoring the process, Bullough said.

“The individual is at home, recovering,” the doctor said of the infected bar employee, adding that others at the pre-opening meetings are being contacted today.

“The important thing to mention is that we don’t think there is a significant risk at this point in time to the individuals that frequented the bar,” Bullough said. “The issue began on the 6th, so we are asking that anybody who visited the Spur Bar & Grill in Summit County from the 6th forward monitor symptoms, take care of yourselves, if you’re not feeling well isolate and call forward on the hotline to make sure you can access testing. That’s very, very important.”

New cases documented

Dr. Angela Dunn, Utah’s state epidemiologist, said that as of last night, nine Utah residents with COVID-19 had been identified, as had five tourists.

Community spread marks a new phase in Utah’s involvement with the global pandemic, she said.

“We’ve been expecting this development and preparing for it,” Dunn said. “The COVID-19 community task force has taken significant steps this week to limit community interactions, and we want to reinforce the importance of the community following these recommendations.”

The recommendations include thorough and frequent hand washing; coughing and sneezing into tissues or into a sleeve near the elbow; and social distancing.

The Health Department and Utah’s state leadership suggest people stay away from groups of people numbering 100 or more. In the past few days, public schools have been closed for at least two weeks, when the situation will be reassessed. Universities have closed, with plans to reformat for online classes.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has announced church services are cancelled, and General Conference will be available online with no audience members attending in person. LDS Temples will close where local governments mandate it as a response to the pandemic, and elsewhere, LDS Temples will be open to guests only by appointment.

On a national level, the NBA has suspended its season after two Utah Jazz players tested positive for COVID-19, and the National Hockey League, Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer responded in kind.

Locally, most theaters have ended or postponed productions, and a few have announced they will limit their audiences to 99 people or fewer.

“With community spread now happening in Utah, it is critically important to follow the advice that Public Health has been giving for weeks,” Dunn said. “Stay home if you’re sick, keep your kids home if they’re sick, and practice good hand hygiene.”

Think beyond personal needs

Bullough said individuals need to keep the needs of the community in mind.

“It is critical we begin to work even more closely together,” he said. “We can’t afford to just be thinking about ourselves. Your actions are going to impact your neighbors. Your actions are going to impact the community. Its very critical that we think about this approach as a team approach across our communities, across our neighborhoods and within our families. We need to implement the preventive recommendations that have been put in place.”

Summit County, where tourism is a major industry, is hard hit, he said.

“There are no formalized travel restrictions, but I do recommend if you have the option of not traveling to Summit County, it’s probably wise to not do so at this point in this time. We do know that we have community spread. That increases the risk of transmission. That is not a formal policy by any means, but I think its just prudent on the part of an individual.”

County officials are working to set up meetings with ski resort officials to determine what can be done to keep everyone safe, he said. All hospitality services will need to assess their procedures, he said.

Anton Fisher, Summit County manager, said that on Thursday, he signed a declaration of local emergency for Summit County, and Bullough signed a declaration of local public health emergency.

“These declarations were not made lightly,and will allow us to utilize emergency resources to combat the spread of COVID-19. Summit County, our municipalities,and other community partners are prepared, but as Dr. Bullough said, our efforts must be done in conjunction and cooperation with the public and business community.”

Fisher said the county’s public gathering places have been closed.

“We are redirecting non-essential resources within our local governments to support this emergency. Some of the things we’re very concerned about are the second- and third-order effects of this. We’re concerned about our service workers and their necessity to work in order to live. We’re concerned about our parents without childcare and those in our community that are the most vulnerable, and that’s what we’ll be working on in our whole-of-government response.

“It is imperative that our businesses partners take the recommendations seriously that we have made, and take all efforts to prevent gatherings. We expect their support.”

Bullough said the county will remain transparent, keeping residents and businesses informed on the evolving situation.

“The only way we are going to get through this thing with as little impact as possible is (to maintain) trust.”

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