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68 positive COVID-19 cases result from 2 businesses refusing to follow health guidelines

By Jacob Klopfenstein, | Updated - May 6, 2020 at 1:08 p.m. | Posted - May 6, 2020 at 10:30 a.m.

PROVO — Two Utah County businesses didn’t follow public health best practices for COVID-19, resulting in 68 positive cases of the disease, officials say.

Utah County government officials did not identify the two businesses in an announcement posted Monday evening on Facebook.

The businesses were in different geographic areas of the county, the statement says. Through contact tracing, the Utah County Department of Health discovered that the businesses told their employees not to follow quarantine guidelines after being exposed to a confirmed COVID-19 case at work.

At one of the businesses, employees who tested positive for COVID-19 were instructed to come back to work.

One of the businesses saw 48% of its employees test positive for the disease, according to the county statement. One of the businesses was shut down completely, and both will be subject to heightened requirements for future inspections and cleanings, the statement says.

Utah County Health Department Executive Director Ralph Clegg said Wednesday the department isn't releasing the names of the businesses to avoid the businesses or employees being targeted by members of the public. Health department officials want to avoid the businesses or employees suffering any consequences they don't deserve, he said.

"We just don’t know how individuals would react to that," Clegg said. "We’re doing all that we can to make sure that those types of situations get rectified."

Health department investigators are working with people involved in the business outbreaks and working through their contacts to determine other people who may have been exposed, Clegg said. Typically, people who may have potentially been exposed to COVID-19 are notified through health department contact tracing.

The business that closed was shut down over a weekend for cleaning, Clegg said, though he did not know the exact date of the closure.

Utah County Commissioner Tanner Ainge said Wednesday he did not know the names of the businesses involved but said they are not public-facing businesses. One is a manufacturing or production facility, he said.

Ainge said he was not aware of anyone being hospitalized as a result of the outbreak at the businesses. None of the cases were categorized as severe, he added.

Clegg also said he was not aware of any severe health outcomes stemming from either business, but the possibility of such an outcome is always there, he added.

Ainge and other county leaders have tried to be mindful of both sides of the pandemic and have worked to consider public health and economic concerns, he said.

Nevertheless, the businesses exhibited behavior that should never be allowed, Ainge said.

"It’s completely irresponsible to be that reckless with their employees' health," he said.

The behavior of the two businesses could potentially jeopardize economic activity for the rest of the businesses in Utah County, Ainge added.

The county, along with the rest of the state, has moved to an orange, moderate-risk level of operations for COVID-19, he said. However, the business outbreaks could slow down the process for further lessening restrictions, or could even force the county to move back to more stringent regulations, Ainge said.

Despite the situation, Ainge said he believes that a few bad actors won’t undo the rest of the good work the county has done to limit the spread of COVID-19 and respond to the pandemic.

"It’s really a disturbing example of what can happen," Ainge said.

The county leaders sent out the letter Monday to remind other businesses that they need to follow the guidelines as more establishments begin opening again, Clegg said. It's important for them to follow the guidelines, or they could risk a similar outbreak.

If people follow the social distancing guidelines set forth by the county, state and federal governments, they shouldn't be at risk for COVID-19, Clegg added. However, if they deviate from those guidelines, there could be an increased risk for them.

The disease is still somewhat widespread in the community, so people are advised to follow those guidelines, Clegg said.

The department does not have staffing capabilities to be able to conduct random spot checks for compliance at other businesses in the community, he said. However, the department will investigate any complaints they receive about businesses not following guidelines, he added.

“If situations arise where complaints are filed with us we’ll do our best to follow up on those," Clegg said.

Intermountain Healthcare is conducting mobile testing in Orem and Provo this week.

Intermountain says the mobile testing units will be used to respond to hotspot areas of increased COVID-19 activity and to provide more testing where it is needed. It's not clear if the testing is being done in connection with the two business outbreaks.

All people living in the 84057 zip code in Orem will be tested Wednesday, and everyone living in the 84606 zip code in Provo will be tested on Thursday and Friday, according to Intermountain.

Testing is taking place at the Orem Community Hospital, 600 W. 400 North, until 6 p.m. Wednesday. The testing center is near the soccer field parking.

In Provo, testing will be done at Utah Valley Hospital, 852 N. 400 West. People are advised to call Intermountain's COVID-19 Hotline at 844-442-5224 before they arrive at the testing centers.

Testing is free and insurance information is not needed. The testing process takes between 5 and 15 minutes.

For more information, visit Intermountain's website.

Contributing: Debbie Dujanovic and Dave Noriega, KSL NewsRadio

Jacob Klopfenstein

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