SALT LAKE CITY — As Utah’s capital city gets the go ahead to apply fewer restrictions beginning Friday, another school district moves to implement its COVID-19 contingency plan.
More than 500 Jordan School District students and employees have been asked to quarantine after they were in close contact with someone infected with COVID-19, a letter to parents in the district stated.
As of Wednesday, there were 20 active COVID-19 cases in the district, which includes more than 56,000 students and at least 6,000 employees.
Jordan district spokeswoman Sandy Riesgraf said schools are prepared to shift affected students to remote learning for the duration of the quarantine.
Schools have contingency plans for a reason
At least three schools in Utah, including Pleasant Grove High School and two charter schools — the Utah Military Academy and American Preparatory Academy’s Draper location — have halted classroom teaching or altered scheduling due to campus COVID-19 outbreaks.
Meanwhile, Utah State University officials have learned that more than 80% of its 287 students living in quarantined dormitory rooms did not test positive with COVID-19. Four students have self-reported positive test results, according to USU spokeswoman Emilie Wheeler.
The school is waiting on results from the remaining students, but have released at least 29 rooms from quarantine.
Tami Pyfer, who serves as Gov. Gary Herbert’s education adviser, said contingency plans were put in place for this reason and are working well throughout the state as COVID-19 cases are identified.
“Schools need to be flexible, prepared and nimble,” she said, adding that these past few weeks “have been filled with excitement … but also hesitation and worry.”
Pyfer, who spoke during the governor’s weekly COVID-19 briefing at the state Capitol, pleaded with parents and communities to support their schools and the plans laid out by local districts. She said even if in-person learning doesn’t last, the opportunity to do it even for a short time will have lasting impacts on students and the teachers.
“The flexibility we’re asking for puts a huge burden on families,” Pyfer said. “We believe in the benefits of in-person learning. Enough that we need to try. We need to do our part to keep our schools safe and healthy.”
Salt Lake City to move to yellow phase of recovery
Herbert said on Thursday that Salt Lake City officials and citizens have put in the work to make the move to fewer COVID-19 restrictions, though he clarified, “that doesn’t mean there’s less risk.”
The move will take effect 10 a.m. on Friday.
The primary reason for the state’s gradually reduced risk is to keep the economy going, Herbert said, adding that the color-coded guidance system provides flexibility to businesses and establishments, but also requires responsibility from the public.
“Social distancing and wearing masks is becoming even more important going into the end of this year,” Herbert said during the Capitol briefing.
The governor also granted permission to Sevier County — the 11th county in the state to move to the green category, where there are no restrictions placed on businesses and other establishments in the county. Herbert said both counties have worked with their local health department to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Officials report ‘modest’ increase in cases on Thursday
The Utah Department of Health on Thursday reported another 504 new cases of COVID-19 in Utah, bringing the total number of infections that have been detected since mid-March to 53,326.
The health department estimates that 44,995 people have recovered from their bouts with COVID-19. And, 120 people are currently hospitalized with the disease across the state.
The rolling seven-day average number of daily cases is 394, which is higher than numbers reported in the last couple weeks. The average percent of positive tests is 9.4%, which is three-tenths of a percentage point higher than Wednesday’s average and seven-tenths of a percentage point higher than last Thursday.
“We’re not seeing anything specific that is causing this increase,” Dr. Angela Dunn, state epidemiologist said. She called Thursday’s increase “modest” and encouraged the public “to remain vigilant with prevention measures that we know do work.”
Dunn also warned Utahns to be prepared for the impending influenza season by getting the flu vaccine.
“Now is not too early to get that,” she said. COVID-19, Dunn added, has been more deadly than the flu and has more long-term effects, some of which are still unknown.
“Let’s take every possible measure to protect ourselves and our community this fall so our schools and businesses can stay open,” she said.
Contrary to news released earlier this week from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Utah’s testing capacity has remained robust enough to continue testing asymptomatic people in the state. In fact, Herbert said anyone can and should be tested for COVID-19 if they have even one symptom or otherwise feel the need to be tested.
He said the federal government will soon be sending rapid antigen testing materials to the state, which offers not only a more convenient way to test for COVID-19, but will help provide results much more quickly, even within 15 minutes.
Rapid tests will first go to prioritized groups, including first responders, schools, day care and long-term care facilities, as well as other groups dealing with critical infrastructure.
COVID-19 kills four more in Utah
In addition to the new cases, four more COVID-19 related deaths were reported by the health department, including three Salt Lake County men, two of whom were between ages 45 and 64, and one who was older than 85 years of age. All three were hospitalized at the time of their deaths. Also included in Thursday’s death count was a Utah County man between the ages of 65 and 84, who was also hospitalized at the time of his death.
The state’s death toll from the disease stands at 414.
The state has tested 668,425 people so far, with results from 5,234 people added since Wednesday.
Herbert said Utah is faring well, given the circumstances. He said the state’s unemployment rate is the best in the nation and that Utah’s economy is rebounding better than most states.
“This really has been a unique time in our history. Not really in anybody’s lifetime have we seen anything like this, that permeates every part of our society,” Herbert said. “We still have room to improve and longer row to hoe before we’re out of this challenge.”
The governor asked that Utahns continue to be mindful of the situation going into the Labor Day weekend, which he said for many is “the last opportunity to have fun in the sun and socialize with others.”
“Be careful, not foolish,” Herbert said. “Together, we can get on top of this.”
New COVID-19 cases reported Thursday by health district across Utah:
- Salt Lake County, 166
- Utah County, 169
- Davis County, 37
- Southwest Utah, 26
- Weber-Morgan, 43
- Bear River (Box Elder, Cache, Rich), 54
- Summit County, 2
- San Juan County, -2
- Tooele County, 6
- Wasatch County, 2
- Central Utah, 10
- TriCounty (Uinta Basin), 3
- Southeast Utah, 8
Contributing: Marjorie Cortez