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State leaders discuss preparations for a potential outbreak of coronavirus in Utah

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SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, March 2, 2020 — Gov. Gary Herbert and Lt. Gov Spencer Cox joined experts from the Utah Department of Health on Monday afternoon to update the public on key steps Utah is taking to ensure the state and individuals are prepared for a possible outbreak of COVID-19.

The press conference was held at the State of Utah Emergency Operations Center in the basement of the Utah State Capitol at 350 N. State Street a little after 4 p.m.

Herbert, speaking first, said that a task force has been formed to prepare for COVID-19 in Utah.

He said: “We want to make sure information we have to give to the people of Utah is correct, is accurate, is current. The concern we have is making sure our schools are safe, our faith-based organizations as we gather as communities in different venues, that we understand what the potential risk is and what we can do to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, commonly referred to now as COVID-19.”

Herbert said he had a conversation earlier Monday with Vice President Mike Pence, who is the federal coronavirus task force leader, and the governors of other states and territories.

He added: “The risk in America right now is low; but that’s the current situation. The concern now is what the future’s going to be, with the spread of this virus. It’s not a matter of containment as we see it spreading, it’s a matter of what can we do to mitigate the spread and minimize the infection that we have in our communities.”

He added: “The phrase I used is that we’re hoping for the best outcome, with minimal impact on our communities, but we’re preparing for the worst, just in case. Better safe than sorry.”

Cox will be heading up the task force in Utah, Herbert said.

Cox said of the task force: “We will be your trusted source. It is my commitment that we will be honest with you, we will work diligently to make difficult decisions, but we will make sure you always have the most accurate and up-to-date information. We want to assure Utahns that we are preparing diligently. I believe it is no understatement to say Utah is the most prepared state in the nation for any time of emergency and we will continue to work together to prepare for the potential threat that the coronavirus brings to each of us.”

Cox said leaders are asking individuals and businesses to meet to discuss contingency plans.

“I think the one takeaway we would give right now is every organization, every business, every church, every family, needs to talk about their own plan,” he added. “What would you do in the situation that there is an infection, that you have to be quarantined for 14 days, what would that look like?”

Dr. Angela Dunn, state epidemiologist, is also part of the task force; she is leading the public health response to COVID-19.

Dunn said at the press conference the focus of the Utah Department of Health is identifying any person in Utah who could possibly have the COVID-19 virus.

She said the state has tested 17 Utahns for COVID-19; there have been 15 negative tests, and two results are pending. Those final two results should come back in the next day or two, she said.

Dunn says there are approximately 65 people who are being actively monitored, who are deemed to be at risk of contracting the virus. These are mostly travelers that have returned from mainland China. All of these individuals are maintaining quarantine in their own homes in case they do test positive for COVID-19.

There is no cost to be tested for the virus, she added.

Dunn said going forward, as a state, we can expect community spread of COVID-19 in Utah, as is happening in other states surrounding us.

“We can expect potential impact on vulnerable populations,” she added. “COVID-19 is highly communicable but luckily the majority of illness is mild, meaning people have a fever, and a cough, then they get better on their own.”

She said it’s possible the elderly or those with underlying health conditions may need to be hospitalized if they contract the virus.

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