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Tanner Siegworth, KSL TV

Utah leaders stress making a plan amid spread of coronavirus

By Jacob Klopfenstein, KSL.com | Updated - Mar. 2, 2020 at 10:40 p.m. | Posted - Mar. 2, 2020 at 6:33 p.m.



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SALT LAKE CITY — Amid the ongoing global spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, Utah leaders are stressing one thing above all else: Make a plan.

Businesses, schools, religious organizations, families and individuals all should have a contingency plan ready in case they become affected by the disease, Gov. Gary Herbert said at a press conference Monday afternoon.

“This is a serious issue, and it has serious potential consequences,” he said. “It’s a matter of: What can we do to mitigate the spread?”

The risk for Utahns to be affected by the disease is still low, officials said Monday.

Businesses are asked to plan for allowing their employees to work from home to prevent the disease’s spread, Herbert said. People with children are asked to make plans for child care in case schools close.

Herbert also urged people to prepare for being quarantined for a period of 14 days, but to use common sense when stocking up on supplies. For example, stockpiling bottled water is not necessary because officials believe Utah’s water supply will be unaffected by the virus, he said.

The state also has created the Utah COVID-19 Community Task Force, comprised of government, health, business, religious and community leaders. The group will work together to disseminate information, make sure Utahns have access to resources, and ensure that the state is prepared for a potential outbreak.

Local information about the disease and virus is available at coronavirus.utah.gov, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, who is in charge of the task force, announced Monday. In the coming days, the state also will be creating social media accounts with the username @utahcoronavirus to keep people informed, Cox said.

As of Monday, 17 people from Utah had been tested for COVID-19, and tests have come back negative for 15 so far, said Dr. Angela Dunn, state epidemiologist for the Utah Department of Health. Health officials are still waiting for the test results to come back for the other two people who were tested, she added.

Mark Jorgensen, a St. George man who was on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, contracted COVID-19 while abroad. He is being continually tested for the disease at Intermountain Medical Center and, as of Friday, had not displayed any symptoms of the disease and felt "perfectly normal," officials said.

Two people in the United States, both residing in Washington state, have died from the disease so far. One was a man in his 70s, and the other a man in his 50s.

The health department is also actively monitoring at least 65 people in Utah for the presence of the disease, Dunn said. They are people who have recently traveled from mainland China or who have other risk factors such as coming in contact with someone who has COVID-19, she said.

Health officials are contacting those people several times a day to see if they begin showing signs of the disease, she said. They are also being quarantined in case they contract the disease.

As of Monday, Utah health officials were able to conduct tests for COVID-19 in the state, making the turnaround to get results less than 24 hours, Dunn said. Previously, tests were being sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta to be processed and were taking longer to get sent back.

Dunn said even though the COVID-19 risk for Utahns remains low, officials are prepared for an outbreak in the state.

“We can definitely expect community spread of COVID-19 in Utah,” she said.

Community spread refers to a disease spreading for unknown reasons through a population that has no known risk factors of the disease.

People who believe they have the disease or have some risk factors, such as recently traveling to countries where the disease is present or coming in contact with an infected person, should contact their health providers, Dunn said. There is no cost for a COVID-19 test if it is done through the Utah Department of Health, she added.

Herbert and Cox encouraged people to visit the state’s coronavirus.utah.gov website and to use common sense when considering the spread of the disease.

Typical hygiene practices such as washing your hands and covering your mouth when you cough can prevent disease spread, Herbert said. State leaders are well-prepared for an outbreak, but Utahns need to help out, too, he said.

“This is really an all-hands on deck exercise,” Herbert said. “There’s only so much government can do, and we’re going to do what we can.”

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