SALT LAKE CITY — Utah leaders announced a new plan Wednesday to get the state's economy back on track, even as the state saw over 400 new COVID-19 cases and health officials acknowledged there has been an acceleration in cases over the past few weeks.
The updated fourth version of the Utah Leads Together plan outlines priorities over the next 100, 250 and 500 days that state leaders hope will get the economy back to its previous activity level pre-pandemic.
Though the state has seen hundreds of new cases each day for several weeks, Gov. Gary Herbert remained optimistic about Utah's prospects to recover from the pandemic.
"This latest version lays out the foundation for recovery," he said. “We’ll recover faster and stronger than any state in America.”
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, health department state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn and other state leaders discussed the state's coronavirus situation at the weekly Utah Department of Health on Wednesday afternoon. Watch the replay of the event below.
Utah legislators will meet in a special session Thursday to address COVID-19-related issues, including economic recovery, Herbert said. He has given the Legislature a list of 26 issues that need to be addressed.
The main objective will be adjusting the state's budget for the 2020 fiscal year, which ends June 30. The Legislature also will adjust the budget for the 2021 fiscal year, which starts July 1.
The state is dealing with a budget shortfall of $93 million in one-time funds, as well as a $757 million shortfall in ongoing expenses in the education and general funds, Herbert said.
Senate President Stuart Adams said he expects some state budgets to see a 2-3% reduction.
However, Adams said Wednesday he expects the education and social services budgets to see increases. The education budget is expected to be increased by about 2% because legislators are preparing to increase the state's per-pupil spending, Adams said.
Additionally, the social services budget will see a 6% increase in the form of Medicaid increases, he said.
"We’ve prepared for this day extremely well," Adams said.
New COVID-19 cases
Wednesday's totals give Utah 15,344 total confirmed cases, with 1,102 total hospitalizations and 149 total deaths from the disease. Previously, there were 14,937 cases in the state.
Three of the deaths reported Wednesday were people from Salt Lake County. Two were men who were between the ages of 65 and 84, according to health officials. One was a resident of a long term care facility, and the other was hospitalized when he died.
The third Salt Lake County death was a woman who was between the ages of 65 and 84 and was hospitalized when she died.
The fourth death reported Wednesday was a Garfield County man who was between the ages of 18 and 60, according to health officials. He had a history of comorbidities, health department state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn said.
The new numbers indicate a 2.7% increase in positive cases since Tuesday. Of the 278,692 tests conducted in Utah so far, 5.5% were positive for COVID-19. There were 2,992 tests conducted between Tuesday and Wednesday.
The daily positive test rate average over the past seven days is 8.6%.
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.
The health department estimates that there are currently 6,643 active cases of COVID-19 in Utah. Another 8,552 cases are estimated to be recovered from the disease. Anyone who was diagnosed with COVID-19 three or more weeks ago and has not died is considered recovered from the disease.
A total of 147 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 in Utah, Dunn said.
The risk of being exposed to COVID-19 is higher than ever in Utah. I am urging you to limit your number of close contacts by practicing social distancing, wearing a face covering when you’re in public places, practicing good hand hygiene, and staying home when you’re ill no matter how mild the symptoms.
–Dr. Angela Dunn, state epedimiologist
There has been an increase in new COVID-19 cases over the past few weeks, with several hundred new cases being reported most days, Dunn said.
“The risk of being exposed to COVID-19 is higher than ever in Utah,” she said. “I am urging you to limit your number of close contacts by practicing social distancing, wearing a face covering when you’re in public places, practicing good hand hygiene, and staying home when you’re ill no matter how mild the symptoms.”
Since about May 8, there has been an acceleration in cases of COVID-19 in Utah, Dunn added. The state is seeing an increase in the case growth rate and has not reached a pandemic plateau, she said.
Therefore, it is more important than ever to consider practicing the public health precautions the state has recommended.
State leaders aren’t considering any stricter rules regarding wearing masks or practicing social distancing, though, Dunn said. They are encouraging people to voluntarily practice those measures in order to protect themselves and those around them.
The state's transmission rate for COVID-19, which refers to the likelihood that a person who has the disease will pass it along to another, is about 1.0 right now, Dunn said. That means that a person who has the disease is likely to pass it on to one other person.
Health officials want to see the transmission rate drop below 1.0, which will mean that the pandemic is getting under control.
COVID-19 outbreak affects meatpacking businesses
Three Wasatch Front meat processing plants have closed temporarily due to being impacted by COVID-19, according to a Wednesday news release from the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food.
The three plants were not identified. The department said the plants have closed voluntarily and temporarily to allow their workforce to recover.
All three have abided fully by the local, state and federal health regulations throughout the pandemic and have taken special care to protect their employees and food products, the news release said.
The department anticipates the three plants will be back to full operational capacity within the next 10 days. There are many meat processors still operating in Utah, and the food supply chain is not at risk, the news release said.
There is no evidence that COVID-19 can spread through food products, according to Dunn. She also declined to name the three plants, saying that health officials don't name businesses that have COVID-19 cases unless there is a risk to the public.
Dunn added that the outbreaks are contained to the facilities. The plants had a handful of cases of COVID-19 before they took public health precautions to prevent further spread, she said.
Dunn added that the outbreak at the JBS beef packing plant in Hyrum had spread into the community. JBS was not named as one of the three plants Wednesday, but it has been affected by COVID-19 in recent weeks.
The JBS outbreak has been on a larger scale, Dunn said, and state officials are working with the Bear River Health District, as well as the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to respond to the outbreak there.