Apr 13, 2020

Utah Coronavirus Press Conference April 13

Utah Press Conference Coronavirus
RevBlogTranscriptsCOVID-19 Briefing & Press Conference TranscriptsUtah Coronavirus Press Conference April 13

Dr. Angela Dunn conducted a coronavirus press conference put on by governor Gary Herbert. Read the full transcript of the briefing here.


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Dr. Dunn: (00:00)
We have tested 45,786 individuals for COVID, an increase of 1,553. We still maintain a 5% positive rate. We have 201 individuals who have required hospitalization throughout this outbreak and maintain about a 9% hospitalization rate. We have no new deaths to report today. We have come up with a definition for recovered. We basically turn the clock back three weeks, so anyone who was diagnosed with COVID-19 more than three weeks ago and did not pass away is considered recovered. As of today, we have 218 individuals who have recovered from COVID-19. The next point I want to emphasize is that we really need people to get tested for COVID-19 throughout the state of Utah, we have unused testing capacity and so we’ve expanded our criteria for testing.

Dr. Dunn: (00:59)
So any individual with one of six symptoms should get tested. The six symptoms are fever, cough, shortness of breath, muscle aches and pains, decreased sense of taste or smell, or a sore throat. For individuals and healthcare providers out there. We really encourage you to seek testing if you have any one of these six symptoms. This is an essential data element for us to know and understand in order to really capture the true burden of COVID-19 across our state and be able to respond effectively. We’ll now open it up for questions.

Speaker 1: (01:43)
Thank you Dr. Dunn at the Tribune, we’re still getting messages from people saying they were turned away from testing this weekend. Can you please explain why that is and what should people do if they are turned away from testing?

Dr. Dunn: (01:56)
So we at the Department of Health are working closely with all of our testing sites so that they understand the new expanded criteria and are able to apply it in their own healthcare settings. So that’s an active conversation that we are having. So again, we’re reaching out to all individuals, healthcare providers and testing States out there, encouraging them to adopt this new expanded criteria.

Speaker 2: (02:22)
Hi Dr. Dunn. Would a national instead of the state by state testing strategy that some of our calling card be useful in Utah, or damaging?

Dr. Dunn: (02:31)
So I’m not aware of any specific national testing strategy that’s being pushed. I do know that every state is in a different part of the epidemic depending on how early they got their initial cases, and how it spread in their individual jurisdictions. We also have varying capacity for testing across the States. So I think it’s important to be able to take into consideration all of these elements when determining a specific testing strategy. So now are Utah testing strategy is working for us, we just need more people to seek it out.

Speaker 3: (03:13)
Yes. Hi. From your perspective, what measures need to be in place for people to be able to go back to work, school, et cetera, eventually? Is that a rapid finger test, we all know that works and is widely available? What do you think needs to be in place?

Dr. Dunn: (03:27)
Sure. So we’re working directly with the Governor’s office and our Governor’s Office of Management and Budget to determine specific measures that we can track in order to understand when we should be able to open up the economy more but also safely. Things we’re looking at include the rate of cases. We want to see a steady decline in our growth rate. We also want to maintain our capacity to be able to test anybody who needs testing, but also continue contact tracing, isolating and quarantining individuals who need to have that happen as well. All of those factors will be considered when we’re looking at policies to reopen pieces of our economy.

Speaker 4: (04:10)
Hi Dr. Dunn. You mentioned that we have not been maxing out our ability to test people, there’s available tests that aren’t being used. What do you attribute that to?

Dr. Dunn: (04:22)
Yeah. That’s the million dollar question. We’re really trying to figure that out. We have seen this decrease in demand for testing. We are increasing our testing sites so that those in more rural jurisdictions have closer access to testing so that we’re eliminating that barrier and then also relaxing our criteria so that people with more mild symptoms do have the ability to get tested. So we’re working on removing any barrier that we foresee as contributing to the low testing numbers.

Speaker 5: (04:59)
Hi there. Dr. Dunn. We’ve talked about projections and the possible peak. Can you tell us when we’re looking at our possible peak and then also the president calling for a soft reopening by May 1st can you comment on that as well?

Dr. Dunn: (05:13)
Sure. There are again, lots of models out there. No model is perfect. We use it just to help with our planning efforts. We always plan for the worst case scenario and hope for the best. Right now our cases have been the growth rate of our cases has been declining over the past several days. With this outbreak, we are looking at a two week trend in order to start making any assumptions because the incubation period is two weeks. So we’re hoping this trend stays consistent, but in order to really have faith behind the numbers, we need to get more people tested so that we have more confidence in our understanding of the burden of disease throughout Utah.

Dr. Dunn: (05:54)
In terms of the soft opening idea on May 1st, we’re going to let data really drive our decisions and so we’re making sure that we are tracking all the relevant data points and supplying that to our Governor’s Office so that they have the best evidence at their fingertips in order to make good policy decisions both for the economy and for the health of people.

Speaker 6: (06:11)
Yeah. Hi Dr. Dunn. I think you actually mostly answered my question, but it sounds like we’ve got this increased capacity for testing that’s around 4,000 or so, but we’re not reaching that. It’s been around 1,500 for the last couple of days. Does that mostly just have to do with the lack of demand and people just not seeking it out for whatever reason?

Dr. Dunn: (06:44)
Yeah, so that is part of it perhaps. Then we hear these anecdotal elements that was mentioned earlier about people potentially being turned away. So we’re working on both sides, the supply and the healthcare providers and the testing sites. Ensuring that they’re using expanded criteria and understand that we want to use the testing capacity we have in the state. Then also working with individuals so that they know what symptoms to look out for and when they should seek testing as well.

Speaker 7: (07:18)
Yeah. Dr. Dunn asking this on behalf of a colleague of mine who wants to know if the state has a response to groups who are apparently gathering across the state that disagree with the health orders on constitutional basis, how does the state respond to that? And do you have any kind of a plan if people start violating based upon some kind of a constitutional right to gather?

Dr. Dunn: (07:38)
Yeah, so currently the authority to enforce is now left up to local health jurisdictions and there’s a variety of enforcement levels across the state for that, that allows for local health jurisdictions to take a look at their own data and their own populations and determine the best approach in terms of enforcement. At the state level as you know, we have a directive. The Governor fully expects everyone to continue following this directive of staying home, and only leaving your home or engaging with people outside of your household if it’s absolutely necessary. So we will continue to watch our data elements and see if we start seeing any increasing points that would lead us to want to advise for more strict guidelines or stricter enforcement of these guidelines.

Michael Orten: (08:28)
Dr. Dunn, this is Michael Orton with the Capitol News Service, given a real possibility of a rebound, or a second wave for a virus as has been exhibited historically, what kind of criteria do you use for analyzing or extending your recommendations given that possibility?

Dr. Dunn: (08:52)
Yeah. Absolutely. There are a lot of hypotheses out there about this being seasonal, or seeing a second wave of COVID-19 disease in the fall things that we-

Dr. Dunn: (09:03)
Of COVID-19 disease in the fall. Things that we will look at at the health department are going to be, of course, an increase in the number of cases we’re seeing week to week, and that includes hospitalization and death as well. We also look for how people are getting the disease, so if we’re unable to identify how someone specifically got COVID-19, what their exposure was, and that happens for a significant portion of our cases, that would be an indication that we would recommend more social distancing measures.

Audience: (09:32)
Would that also include a better focus on the potential of reopening schools anytime in the near future?

Dr. Dunn: (09:42)
Yeah, absolutely. Those are all metrics we look at for different types of social distancing measures including school openings, restaurants and bars reopening, and other restrictions that have been put into place.

Audience: (09:55)
[inaudible 00:10:01].

Dr. Dunn: (10:04)
Sure. So antibody testing is a test used from blood that shows if somebody has been exposed to COVID-19 in the past. Those tests are still under development by national laboratories, including the CDC and our own local laboratory here, ARUP. There’s still some investigation work that needs to be done to determine the usefulness of those tests. They depend on a high prevalence of disease or having a lot of the public population being infected with the disease already before we can trust those results. So right now, the gold standard for testing for COVID-19 are the nasal swabs that you can find at the testing sites. That allows us to understand who currently has active COVID-19, so that we’re able to apply good public health measures in terms of contact tracing, isolation, and quarantine, to stop the spread of COVID-19 here in Utah.

Audience: (10:55)
[inaudible 00:02: 00]. Yeah, to followup on that question, just can you help us understand a little bit better about why more widespread testing of people with maybe mild symptoms helps you all, what data you get, what’s the end game there? Help us understand that.

Dr. Dunn: (11:13)
Sure, absolutely. What we’re learning about COVID-19, both nationally and internationally, is that there is presymptomatic spread. That means prior to someone showing any symptoms such as cough or fever, they likely can transmit the disease. So we really needed to be able to understand who in our community has even the most mildest of symptoms, so that we can better identify future hotspots, where the burden is across the state, and be able to apply social distancing recommendations and other public health interventions in a more targeted capacity. So the more people that get tested, it’ll allow us, one, to give more confidence in our numbers. If the true case rate is decreasing, and if that is something that we can truly believe because most people have been tested in the state. Or if we see an increasing number of cases due to the increase in cases, where can we apply public health interventions more effectively? So testing is a cornerstone for any infectious disease response, but especially this one.

Dr. Dunn: (12:14)
okay. Thank you so much. Val Hale.

Val Hale: (12:21)
Thank you Dr. Dunn. Last week we finished the first round of the Utah leads together small business bridge loan program. The program’s targeted to small businesses with fewer than 50 employees and awards 0% interest loans for five years, with the first payment due one year after the loan is received. The loans range from 5000 dollars to 20,000 dollars or no more than three months operating expenses.

Val Hale: (12:52)
We had about 2700 businesses that began the application process and just over 1000 completed the process before the deadline and were reviewed for the first round. Our team worked like true superheroes to evaluate those applications and awarded 6.1 million dollars in loans to 502 businesses. The businesses represented all areas of the state and a wide variety of industries. Over 27% of the funding went to businesses in rural Utah. 444 checks went out in the mail last Friday with the remainder to follow shortly.

Val Hale: (13:34)
Round two of funding for the small business loan program opened this morning, and will run through Thursday at noon. We’re pleased to announce that nonprofit organizations are available for this round of funding. Businesses that applied for the first round but were unsuccessful will have their applications automatically resubmitted for round two. We have 4.9 million dollars of state funding to award in the second round. Plus I’d like to give a special acknowledgement to worker’s compensation fund, a great company that has worked with many small businesses here in Utah over the years. Through their foundation, they have added one million dollars to the loan fund out of a desire to help small businesses during this difficult time. With their generous addition, we will have a total of 5.9 million to award in the second round.

Val Hale: (14:33)
To apply for the small business loan, businesses should go to the coronavirus.utah.gov website. Click on the business page and look for the link to the loan application. Once again, the application must be completed by Thursday at noon.

Val Hale: (14:50)
Our team from GOED, other state agencies, and volunteers from the private sector will once power through these applications like the incredible Hulk to get them reviewed and awarded and the checks in the mail by the end of next week. The purpose of this program is to provide loans to help small businesses survive until they access other funds through the small business loan emergency program or the payroll protection program from the federal government, and then hopefully help them return to normal operation when that time comes. Thank you. Are there any questions?

Audience: (15:35)
[inaudible 00:15:35] Thank you. Can we get those numbers again or are they going to be available from GOED after this press conference? And what is the governor’s office and GOED having to say about when some businesses might be open or a soft opening?

Val Hale: (16:00)
Well, we are working with the governor’s office, as Dr. Dunn said, and the people who are making those decisions, in looking at the data, the facts and trying to decide when the right time is to reopen the economy and to roll it out. We are following their lead. This loan program, again, is designed to try to help businesses through that period and to help access other funds that may be available through the federal government and other places, other agencies, and other means.

Audience: (16:39)
[inaudible 00:16:39] Hi. What’s the criteria that you’re using to evaluate those loan applications?

Val Hale: (16:47)
There are a number of criteria. Obviously, the number of employees that they have, whether there are multiplier effects to their businesses, the impact that they have in their community. There are a number of them that are listed on the website that you can see that we use to evaluate them. We had a team of about 25. Each of the awardees was reviewed about five times through the process and awarded a score. And the evaluators are people from the private sector, from the banking industry, from GOED and from other state agencies. We’ve had a really good team. They spent, not the Easter weekend, but the previous weekend, reviewing most of those thousand applications, and we really appreciate their volunteering to help get this to happen so quickly.

Audience: (17:54)
Hi there. I saw someone post on Facebook, he was denied in the original round and he says to the governor, “You shut my business down. That should qualify-

Audience: (18:03)
Round, and he says to the governor, “You shut my business down. That should qualify us for assistance. If the state is going to force me to close my doors then I think the state should pay my bills. Right now we don’t have any revenue.” What would you say to folks like this who are frustrated?

Val Hale: (18:15)
Well, obviously it’s difficult when you have as many people who have applied for the limited funds that we have, that person, his or her business will be re-submitted to the second round of funding and may still get funded. We just simply don’t have sufficient funding to fund all of the businesses. And I wish that there were opportunities to do that, but it’s just the way it is.

Audience: (18:45)
And will the list of all the businesses that were accepted, is that public record?

Val Hale: (18:50)
Right now we don’t have it as public record, but it’s certainly something we can consider.

Michael Lorton: (19:05)
Thank you for taking my question. Val Hill, this is Michael Lorton with the Capitol News Service. Given the fact that we discussed with Dr. Dunn the potential for a second wave of the epidemic. We’re also interested in understanding how this will work with the Utah leads together plan going from urgency, to transitioning, to stability and how you’re going to deal with that.

Val Hale: (19:36)
Well, I think many of us now are, given the hopeful signs that we see in some of these trends are starting to talk about that transition to the stabilization phase. And I think that’s going to be critical as we go from essentially this urgency phase where many businesses have been shut down or at least minimized significantly, it’s going to be critical for us to start talking about what we can do to help that stabilization phase and then onto normalization and the phase that comes after that. And so we’re hopeful. I know in our office we’re starting to talk about what we can do to try to help facilitate that critical stabilization phase and hopefully that’s not too far away.

Michael Lorton: (20:26)
Can you give us some insight into the process here and the dialogue between you and the health officials, because it seems like there’s some creative tension that would exist there. They want us to be safe and healthy, but that also includes the economic health that you oversee. So can you give us some insight as to how that dialogue goes?

Val Hale: (20:50)
Well, the governor has said that they should not be considered mutually exclusive of each other. Obviously, health and welfare comes first, but economic health and economic welfare is also right there with it. His approach has been that we’re going to consider them both, we’re going to look at them both and we’re going to try to come out of this with as strong an economy as we possibly can have. I think that’s the approach that Utah’s taken, and I think it’s the approach that a lot of States are looking at, because we’ve had success in both areas and I know that this has been an extremely trying time for many in our business community. And we hope that by getting the health part of it taken care of as well, we can come out more quickly than we would have otherwise.

Michael Lorton: (21:44)
So we’re understanding then that within the cabinet, the governor’s going to make a decision here. Wondering also if you have any idea about… There’s some information coming from the Northeast, governors are doing coalitions to try and make decisions about this since the virus knows no state boundaries. Do you know if the governor’s involved in the Western governors association for this purpose?

Val Hale: (22:11)
Well, I know that the governor has regular calls with the National Governor’s Association and the white house, so I’m sure he’s very much involved with other governors in this conversation. Thank you very much. We appreciate your help. Thanks

Joe Doherty: (22:25)
Good afternoon. I’m Joe Doherty. I’m the Public Information Officer for the Utah Division of Emergency Management. When coronavirus started in our state, we realized that we were living with a new situation, with a new virus that was going to require new ways of thinking about how to protect Utahns. This weekend, we started something brand new by issuing a wireless emergency alert to targeted areas around the state lines. And the point of this was to alert motorists coming into the state, to give them an opportunity to fill out a form that would allow them to declare their health status, using the wireless emergency alert is a great and powerful system, however, it didn’t work exactly as we had hoped and we know that there are a number of residents in the state who received alerts in their homes, in their bathrooms and in other locations when they were quite far away from the borders.

Joe Doherty: (23:37)
And so I’m announcing today that we have turned off the alert, it has been canceled as of 12:17 PM today. And because we remain ever flexible, we will continue with the messages available only on variable message signs, on certain roadways in the state. So the motorist will still be informed about the opportunity to fill out the health declaration survey, they just will no longer be receiving a wireless emergency alert.

Joe Doherty: (24:08)
Now you might be interested to know that Utah was the first state to try this type of technology, specifically alerting at our state lines for this. It was a really bold experiment and I’m proud that we could be a part of it and we had a chance to learn a lot of really important lessons by doing this, such as we learned exactly that these messages will sometimes alert much further than the areas we intended. For the folks in the Uintah basin, for those in st George and those in Oneida County, Idaho, we apologize to you for the number of messages that you received when you were not supposed to receive them, but please know that this is something we were doing in good faith. We are doing everything we can as state government to stop the spread of coronavirus and this was going to be one more way of doing that.

Joe Doherty: (24:57)
We do feel like there were some successes as well because we were able to reach so many people that we received thousands of responses through the declaration form. And so we appreciate everybody who took time to fill that out and to help us understand what their health status was and that gave the Utah department of health some valuable information. And please always know that your information was kept very securely. Very, very few people have access to that, just the health professionals are the ones who had the ability to contact anyone based on that data. So I am available if you have any questions for me.

Speaker 11: (25:40)
Hi. I imagine that it’d be kind of difficult to calculate a response rates through the wireless emergency alerts, but response rates for people coming through the airport, like what percentage of people who were handed those cards with QR codes actually went and filled out the declaration form?

Joe Doherty: (25:58)
Yeah, I apologize. I actually don’t have that specific data. That’s definitely something that we can find for you though if you want to contact us later.

Speaker 11: (26:06)
Sure thing. Thank you.

Speaker 12: (26:18)
Hi there. There’s so much information out there. Obviously we’ve been hearing all the latest, but folks at home aren’t aware of every little minutia that changes day to day. Can you clarify one more time what the rules are leaving and coming into the state of Utah as it relates to borders, enforcement and what your message is?

Joe Doherty: (26:36)
Yeah. So currently everyone who enters the state is being asked to fill out a survey T entry.utah.gov, that’s the URL that has been delivered over the wireless emergency alert since Friday. Those alerts were pushed to mobile devices on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and then this morning, and then we canceled that alert this afternoon. People who also arrive at the…

Joe Doherty: (27:03)
… This afternoon. People who also arrive at the Salt Lake City International Airport are handed a postcard with a QR code on it, and when they scan that QR code, it directs them to that same website, entry.utah.gov. And you asked about the enforcement, and there was no enforcement that was planned to go along with this right now. It was just really an expectation that people would be good public health citizens and help make sure that public health officials are aware of anyone who might have coronavirus or had been tested, either with positive or negative, with positive or negative results. And so yeah, it was just an expectation that people would comply with that and we appreciate everyone who did.

Speaker 13: (27:51)
Thanks Joe. How many people, either drivers or coming through the airport reported that they are positive for coronavirus or have symptoms of it?

Joe Doherty: (28:01)
Yeah, I apologize, that’s data that I don’t have access to. The Division of Emergency Management was really just tasked with sending the emergency alert because we manage the software that has the alert capability in it to identify those polygons or the shapes on a map and then send that alert on behalf of UDOT and the Department of Health. So I don’t have that, but it’s something we can get for you.

Speaker 14: (28:32)
Hi. So you mentioned that the alerts have been canceled for now. So I have two questions. Firstly, do you anticipate working out the bugs and trying to work out a new system where you’re pushing mobile alerts to phones for people crossing the border? And then you mentioned that you’ll be moving to some signs along those highway areas where people are entering the state. Is that going to be like on some of the like electronic UDOT signs that you see around or is that going to be some different signage?

Joe Doherty: (29:10)
So we anticipate continuing to work out some of the bugs and the kinks that are in the system. The wireless emergency alerts are sent using a technology called cell broadcast. And what that means is that when we push an alert through our software, FEMA then sends that alert to the wireless carriers, which then decide which cell phone towers they want to deliver that message to. And ideally, and the way the system is going is that in the future, those alerts will go to an area no more than one 10th of a mile outside of the area you want to target. And so we think the future is really bright for this technology. I think it’s just something that still needs to be continued to be worked on, between the government partners and the private sector partners that manage those cell phone towers. So the wireless carriers are an important part of that.

Joe Doherty: (30:01)
I think that some of the changes that we did make as we shrank the alerting areas, the targeted areas, we were able to eliminate some of the messages for some people. I had two contacts, one in St. George and one in Dushane, and both of them reached out to me today and said, “I didn’t receive an alert.” And that told me that, hey, it looks like we’re starting to make some improvements here. So will this technology be used in the future? Not possibly … I don’t expect that we will be using it for coronavirus, but just know that this technology is alive and well in case we need to issue Amber alerts or other type of emergency messages for Utahns, this technology still exists. And then you asked about the signs. Yes, we are expecting to use the … They’re called variable message signs. They’re the electronic signs that are over the highways or posted on the side of highways that UDOT owns. And so that’s what we expect to be using moving forward.

Speaker 14: (31:04)
Yeah. Joe, do you have a sense of how many people got bombarded with these text messages and are we talking, was this like hourly, every minute? What were you receiving as far as complaints that led you to rethink this decision to use the wireless alerts?

Joe Doherty: (31:20)
Yeah, thanks. So we know that some people clearly got an annoying number of messages, and I would feel the same way. There were some people who reported to us, although a very small number that they received upwards of 15, some 20, a couple of people reported 30 messages, which is way beyond what we would really want to happen here. Now, we knew it was possible going into this, but we thought the benefit and the chance to capture some important data would outweigh the risk of possibly annoying some people. So because cell broadcast technology is an anonymous push of information, we have no record or access to any data that would tell us how many people actually received that alert.

Joe Doherty: (32:05)
The best data that we have is that we ended up with well over 10,000 people that actually went to the survey. So we know that there were in the thousands of people who received it. Then we heard back on our feedback form, we posted on our website from 700 plus people, many of whom were just reporting, hey, I did receive the message. Some of them were quite upset with how many they received. And so we’re, we’re very conscious of that and we wanted to make sure that we are providing the best alert possible moving forward.

Speaker 15: (32:45)
Hey Joe, it sounds like as if you still want drivers coming into the state to still fill out that survey, it’s just you’re not going to send out the alert, you’re just going to ask them to do it as they pass the overhead signs. Is that accurate?

Joe Doherty: (32:59)
Yeah, that’s correct. We’re expecting motorists now, they will just be alerted with a sign, an electronic sign either on the side of the road or overhead at those state line areas, and that’s how people will be receiving that invitation to participate in the health declaration.

Speaker 16: (33:23)
Yeah. Joe, do you plan to try to troubleshoot what happened and go back to the alerts at some point or are you guys done with trying that again?

Joe Doherty: (33:33)
Yeah, we currently don’t plan to use any more alerts related to coronavirus specifically at our state lines. FEMA has given us guidance that says that the wireless emergency alert is appropriate to be used during coronavirus. And many states, if you look around, have used their wireless emergency alert in the case of stay at home orders and things like that. So the technology is always available to us, but right now there are no immediate plans to use it during the coronavirus outbreak. So thank you very much. And I will give Paul the microphone back.

Paul: (34:15)
Again, we’re very grateful to our media partners who make this possible each day, and we’ll see you tomorrow at 1:30. Thank you.

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