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SALT LAKE CITY — As the state of Utah saw another moderate increase in COVID-19 cases Monday, state health officials said they have expanded the criteria for testing and have come up with a definition for who is considered recovered from the disease.
State officials also announced the cancelation of COVID-19 related mobile travel alerts and said the Governor's Office of Economic Development is accepting applications for a second round of small business bridge loans.
Monday’s totals give Utah 2,363 confirmed cases, with 201 hospitalizations and 18 total deaths from the disease. Previously, there were 2,303 cases in the state.
The new numbers indicate a 2.6% increase in positive cases since Sunday. Of the 45,787 people tested in Utah so far, 5.2% have tested positive for COVID-19.
The total number of cases reported by the health department includes all cases of COVID-19 since Utah’s outbreak began, including those who are infected now, those who have recovered from the disease, and those who have died.
Health officials now consider anyone who was diagnosed with COVID-19 three or more weeks ago and has not died to be recovered from the disease, according to health department state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn.
As of Monday, 218 people in Utah were considered recovered from COVID-19, according to Dunn.
Dunn and other state officials discussed the current coronavirus situation in the state at the daily Utah Department of Health press conference on Monday afternoon. Watch the full replay of the event below.
New testing criteria
State officials now are recommending anyone who has any single symptom of COVID-19 — such as fever, coughing, shortness of breath, muscle aches, a decreased sense of taste or smell, or throat soreness — should get tested for the disease, Dunn said.
Officials are expanding the criteria for those who should get tested in an effort to increase testing numbers.
Utah currently has the capacity to test 4,000-4,500 people but is falling well short of reaching that number for tests that are actually administered. From Sunday to Monday, only about 1,500 more people were tested for the disease.
The health department is investigating why there has been such a low demand for tests, Dunn said. Officials are working with hospitals and test sites so healthcare workers there understand the new criteria for testing and don't turn people away, she said.
Additionally, the department is working with individuals to make sure they know testing is available to them and necessary. Getting more people tested will help health officials continue to understand the breadth of the disease in Utah, Dunn said.
"Testing is a cornerstone for any infectious disease response, but especially this one," she said.
Travel alerts canceled
Mobile travel alerts were instituted last week in an effort to track who was entering the state of Utah so health officials could coordinate in case those people needed treatment or assistance.
The alerts were intended to be pushed to mobile devices for people who were driving into the state in certain highway areas just inside the border.
However, the system didn't work as officials hoped, according to Utah Department of Emergency Management spokesman Joe Dougherty. The alerts were pushed to some people who were in their homes, sometimes far away from the border, he said.
As of 12:17 p.m. Monday, the alerts have been canceled, and the state does not anticipate using such a system for pandemic-related purposes, he said.
"It was a really bold experiment," Dougherty said, noting that Utah was the first state in the nation to attempt any sort of mobile notification system for travel orders.
Some people received the alert at their homes in St. George, the Uinta Basin and Oneida County, Idaho, according to Dougherty. People were receiving the alerts 15-20 times, with some people reporting they received it 30 times, he said.
The department of emergency management narrowed the areas where alerts were being pushed, and the system showed signs of improvement Monday, but officials ultimately decided to cancel the alerts, Dougherty said.
Moving forward, people will still be asked to voluntarily fill out the declaration at entry.utah.gov, but will be notified using electronic Utah Department of Transportation signs along highways, instead of mobile alerts, Dougherty said.
Several thousand people completed the travel declaration as a result of the alerts, which helped the health department gather some important data, Dougherty said.
Though the mobile alert technology won't be used again for coronavirus purposes, the technology is available to the state and may be used in other future scenarios, he said.
More small business loans
The Governor's Office of Economic Development has started accepting applications for a second round of small business bridge loans through the Utah Leads Together plan.
The office will continue accepting applications through noon Thursday, according to executive director Val Hale. Click on the business link at coronavirus.utah.gov to find details on how to apply.
There is currently $5.9 million available in funding, which will be distributed for the second round. Officials are hoping to have checks out to businesses that qualify by the end of next week, Hale said.
The loans are available to small businesses of 50 employees or less, according to Hale. For the second round, nonprofit organizations also will be able to apply. The loans are awarded in amounts ranging from $5,000 to $20,000 and are offered at zero percent interest. Payments on the loans are deferred for 12 months.
A total of 500 businesses received $6.1 million in aid from the first round of loans, with about 27% of those located in rural Utah away from the Wasatch Front. Businesses that applied during the first round but did not qualify will have their applications automatically re-entered for the second round, Hale said.