Mar 31, 2020
Utah Governor Gary Herbert Coronavirus Press Conference Transcript March 31
Paul Edwards: (01:39)
(silence) Good morning. My name is Paul Edwards. I’m with the COVID-19 Task Force and it’s my pleasure to welcome you to today’s briefing with Gary Herbert. We also have with us today the Department of Public Safety Commissioner Jess Anderson. So I’ll turn the time over to governor Herbert. Governor.
Gary Herbert: (02:03)
Well thank you Paul and thanks to all of you again for being here with us as we have this daily briefing. I appreciate again, the media in trying to help us get the information out to the people of Utah and to let them know where we’re at, what we’re doing and what we’re planning to do going forward. After our briefing yesterday, I heard one of the commentators talk about what we just heard from Governor Herbert and it felt like a lot of repetition. And I’m sure that it was.
Gary Herbert: (02:40)
I’m sure that people feel the same way today about repetition because in fact we are very single minded in our goal to in fact slow down the spread of the COVID-19 virus. We are single minded of purpose that we’re going to make sure that people understand the plan of action that we have out there and that we’re still in that urgent phase. As I mentioned yesterday, we won’t rest until we drive down the transmission rate because if we don’t do that then the health system will be overrun and we will have a significant, more acute problem. So we are a single-minded and we have a plan and we’re going to execute on that plan as we know what will help us in fact is a slow down and stop the spread of this coronavirus.
Gary Herbert: (03:31)
So let me just repeat what I said yesterday. The next two weeks are critical. We want you to stay safe, stay home, keep safe, physical distance from each other. We call it social distancing. The physical distance should be at least a minimum of six feet. Wash your hands. Cover your cough, your sneeze. Again, practice good hygiene and rigorously follow the stay safe, stay home protocols we’ve outlined in the directive we’ve given and the directions of your local health department. If we all will do that, we have a good chance of stemming the tide here on the spread of the coronavirus and slow down the transmission. So with that, I do have a couple of other items I’d like to talk to you about which I think are important. Some updates and some things we’re doing on some of the organizing that’s taking place. Let me just mention too, we’re still in the urgent phase, but I appreciate what I see happening in the community out there at large.
Gary Herbert: (04:38)
People are showing great acts of kindness and trying to help each other. That is the Utah way. We lead the nation in volunteerism, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that people are stepping up and volunteering and trying to help those who need help and we need to continue to do that. Government cannot do it all. We need the private sector to step up and we as neighbors and community leaders and all people to see what we can do to find our role and make sure that we help things to happen. I want to give a shout out to our teachers. This has been a very difficult time for them. As we’ve closed down the public education system, most people are now practicing homeschooling and our teachers are doing such a great job of making sure that our students at all grade levels are still learning.
Gary Herbert: (05:28)
Again, it’s a difficult situation, but they’re making sure assignments are out there. They’re making phone calls to check on their students. Principals are following up and again, I appreciate the hard work and dedication that our teachers and those in education are exhibiting in very difficult and trying times. Something they never been trained for and they’re doing a great job. So if you have an opportunity to talk to our teachers and our education people tell them thanks for the job they’re doing. This is really important for us to continue with the education of our young people. Also like to recognize again, an effort in our private sector, Dean Taylor Randall of the Eccles School of Business, who’s the dean there, [inaudible 00:06:13] and the federal level working alongside the George S. Eccles and Dolores Dore Eccles Foundation, which is helping to underwrite this effort for creating what’s called, what is in fact a free online course that starts this Friday.
Gary Herbert: (06:30)
This course is designed to help small businesses in particular weather the storm and the name of the course is Navigating COVID-19: How to Save Your Business. Now again, this is free of charge. You can go there and you’re going to learn some practical tips on what you can do to help tread water during this difficult time and maintain steps to take right now to position your business, to be able to take advantage of the recovery, which we know is in the future and it’s not that far away, but you’ve got to be able to get from here to there and they’re going to give you steps on how to position your business to take advantage of the recovery. Where to get immediate business assistance today, again, as I mentioned yesterday, help is on the way and not only from the state but from the federal level and our local banks. And a coordinated effort where you can get some immediate business assistance is going to be an important aspect for our business community.
Gary Herbert: (07:27)
And what sources of information should you listen to? One of the things that we’ve had at almost a cottage business out there, people having theories and making comments and opinions and sometimes it’s hard to separate fact from fiction. So for our business community, they need the facts. They need to know what information they can rely on to help them weather the storm and emerged stronger than ever. They have a webpage you can go to. We’d like to have that put out there, firstname.lastname@example.org. Let me give that to you again, information@eccles, E-C-C-L-E-S,.utah.edu. I think you’ll find that very helpful.
Gary Herbert: (08:13)
Testing continues to be the biggest challenge we face. I’ve mentioned this probably every time I’ve had a press conference. It is a challenge and it is also the solution. If we can get enough testing done to help us find who’s got the coronavirus, how we can isolate them and protect the society and protect them and help them get cured. So the testing is key. It’s not only just testing, but it’s also what we call tracing or tracking of the people and those who’ve been in contact with somebody who’s been exposed to COVID-19. So testing and tracking and tracing are going to continue to be top of our list of needs. I’m encouraged, some of you have heard already about the new test that can give you an answer in less than fif-
Gary Herbert: (09:03)
… That can give you a an answer in less than 15 minutes. That comes from Abbott Laboratories, a rapid test of the COVID-19. The good news is that we have 15 of those machines on their way to Utah. We’re grateful for that. We are. But in order to manage expectations, let me just tell you that that only allows us to test about 100 more individuals. 100 is all. It’s really kind of a drop in the bucket. Now again, it’s a step in the right direction. The machines are capable of doing more than that, but we’ve got to have the test kits that go along with it in order to in fact start testing more people, which is what we in fact need to do. So we appreciate, again, this is a new breakthrough and we think there’s going to be others. In fact, I plan over the next day or two to give you more information on what we are doing to ramp up our testing.
Gary Herbert: (09:55)
Good news here yesterday, we had the largest number of people tested so far, 4,000. 4,000 one day. Again, we’re getting closer to our goal of being able to have a 7,000 in one day, which we’re striving for. So more information on that to come. Let me also just thank those who have been involved up to this point. We have strong leadership in the state. Part of our culture is one of leadership, one of working together in a spirit of collaboration and cooperation. So I thank those who’ve been involved in the beginning of this.
Gary Herbert: (10:28)
We think it’s only been really a month we’ve been involved in this. I appreciate particularly my Lieutenant governor Spencer Cox, who took on the responsibility of our community task force. It was a 24/7 around the clock effort and he’s been able to marshal the public and the private sector together to work together and really the efforts that they’ve done on that community task force has helped us to buy some time, buy time to get us in the right place so that we can in fact have a good front in fighting this coronavirus and a time for us to mobilize and develop a more effective plan than we’ve seen really in other states.
Gary Herbert: (11:07)
So for all those involved with the community task force led by Spencer Cox, our lieutenant governor, I appreciate the good work they’ve done to help us get to the good place we’re in today as we continue to move forward. In addition, we have good state leadership and other areas I want to mention in particular as we work together, this is a part right now in the urgency phase, which I’ll call the surge. We’re going to try to surge and move more and more efforts towards getting on top of this coronavirus, and this surge in a coordinated effort and all hands on deck. I appreciate the good work that’s coming out of our department of health led by Dr. Joseph Miner. He’s a very capable leader, he’s an actual physician, a doctor, and certainly has great management skills for that department. He came from local health departments before he took over the responsibility to state,
Gary Herbert: (12:03)
Unfortunately for Dr. Miner and for us, he has his own health issues right now with his own immune system, having nothing to do with COVID-19 but it makes him a little more susceptible and so it’s a little more difficult for him to be out. He is actually at home, at his house, managing things from his home, not being able to come into the office having to telecommute as we encourage others to do the same, but we need to have a boots on the ground kind of an effort here, particularly out of our department of health, as we take this on a surge in our efforts towards more and better efforts. So today I’m announcing that I’ve appointed former adjutant general Jefferson Burton who led our national guard here and just retired a few months ago to lead the day to day operations of the Utah department of health.
Gary Herbert: (12:58)
General Burton has got a significant background not only in the military but in disaster planning and response, so his abilities and training will make him ideal to come in and help us ramp up this surge effort, certainly through the department of health and coordinating other efforts that we have going and I’ll talk to you about here in a minute. Dr. Miner will remain as the executive director of the health department, but these ongoing efforts will be directed by General Jefferson Burton, and I’m excited again with the cooperation and consultation of Dr. Miner, to have this new augmentation in our department of health. And General Burton will be part of what will be known as our unified command. I hope everybody understands we do have a unified command. We have an EOC center, emergency operations center here in the Capitol that’s designed to have these kinds of efforts made.
Gary Herbert: (13:55)
It was operated when we had the earthquake, and we have our most critical players, when we establish a unified command, that means all department heads, all the resources we have in state government brought to bear in a coordinated effort to see what needs to be done and how it’s going to be done and who’s going to do it. So this unified command really is what we have now with the disaster being the COVID-19. And so we’re a working together and have the critical players from our division of emergency management to our department of health and other agencies that will be part of this effort. We’ve gone to level one. Level one means that all agencies are involved and we have briefings daily, every morning. We’ll use all the resources at our disposal to in fact defeat this spread of this coronavirus. The objectives of this unified response are these.
Gary Herbert: (14:55)
One is health. We want to have increased testing and tracing tracking. We will find and we will deploy PPEs, personal protective equipment, which we have in short supply around the country, but we’re going to find and deploy PPEs as we need them, and we’re going plan for any kind of increasing hospital activity level. Again, we’ve suspended elective surgery so that we have beds available for the increasing numbers with testing will bring to us and those who are sick and need healthcare. Again, that’s part of why we want to make sure we don’t have our health secure system overrun, and that’s particularly true about our hospitals. So that’s the health aspect. Second area is economy. We have a plan, Utah Leads Together which has been the work of many and coming together with a plan that will in fact work. It’s a plan for not only protecting our health and the recovery from the health aspects of COVID-19, but also put us on a track to recover economically.
Gary Herbert: (15:59)
We know there’s a downturn in the economy, that’s unfortunate, as a result of this coronavirus pandemic. But we are also planning with our plan how we can survive through the middle part of this and in fact come out healthy on the other side. Number three is information and communication. We will coordinate all of our efforts to communicate to the all the stakeholders involved and certainly to the public, to make sure that you’re informed and that you’re involved. This is everybody working together in a coordinated effort if we’re going to end up winning the battle over the coronavirus. And I think again, we’re doing good things. I feel good about the future. I’m optimistic. Yeah. But we certainly need to work together to make sure we do the things that are necessary to get on top of this.
Gary Herbert: (16:50)
Last of all, I’ve asked our department of public safety commissioner Jesse Anderson, who’s our public safety commissioner, and I’ve asked him to lead this unified command. It will be his job to make sure that all the stakeholders are involved, that we in fact work together in a coordinated effort. So I’ve asked Commissioner Anderson if he’d step forward and tell you a little bit about what’s going on with our unified command. So please welcome Jesse Anderson, commissioner of public safety.
Jesse Anderson: (17:20)
Thank you governor. Appreciate the opportunity to be here today and as well as the great efforts of Dr. Miner and the health department, and being able to work with Dr. Miner over these last several weeks in all aspects of this health crisis that we find ourselves in currently. And welcome to General Burton, and we look forward to working with him out of the unified command and being able to continue to help move things forward in a positive direction here. As governor’s mentioned, we’ve established a unified command out of the state emergency operation center, which is located here at the state capitol. This is where we put our most critical players up to the table to make those decisions, and as well as-
Jesse Anderson: (18:03)
Up to the table to make those decisions and as well as policy recommendations up to the governor every single day. These are the brightest of minds, those who are dealing with this from the health department. Also, with public safety, our division of emergency management. We also have the Utah National Guard. State purchasing and as well as the governor’s office of management and budget, as well as other stakeholders that come from the state entity. In addition to, we also correlate with the federal government at this level, particularly, we have a FEMA representative who sits in the State Emergency Operations Center with us to which we correspond with every single day. A level one activation just simply is an opportunity for us to leverage resources.
Jesse Anderson: (18:50)
Level one means that we now have the ability to draw upon state resources, but as well as federal resources going forward. In fact, later today we will be declaring or at least putting forward the states major disaster declaration to the president of the United States. This, again, would open up opportunities for us to use resources at a federal level along with logistics, but also fiscal responsibilities that can come as an assistance to all of us out of the federal levels. Just to reiterate, this opportunity to be working side by side with the Department of Health, as well as every stakeholder on the private side and the public side out of the emergency operation center, is the opportunity that we need to continue to have the flexibility, as well as making progress in every single area.
Jesse Anderson: (19:45)
The governor covered our priorities coming out of the operation center, which is first and foremost, our health component, where we are doing our very best at tracking the testing mechanisms or tracing where the vulnerable virus is being spread, but also all of our protective equipment known as PPE that you’ve heard so much about. We work hand in hand with our economic task force led by the Salt Lake Chamber, and those in the private sector and the businesses of understanding essential services and going forward with what is known to be driving our economy. And most important is an information hub. The operation center serves as a key component of gathering proper and significant data that drives us in our decision making, as well as the policies are coming out of everything that we do.
Jesse Anderson: (20:40)
It is important that we all share that information as we, from the state perspective work with the counties and the locals, there are emergency managers, as well as their health offices and those locations. It’s critical that we have the proper data that’s driving the decisions that we’re making. Some of the things we’ve been able to accomplish so far in the last couple of weeks working out of the command center, this unified effort. We have communicated with and brought home some 37 Utahns off the Grand Princess cruise ship. Those who’ve been stranded abroad as well. We’re identifying and securing quarantine sites. We’re in constant communication with the public and reminds you why we need you to continue to social-distance and stay at home. The messaging that governor’s pushed out. We are arranging for personal protective equipment donations. So far we’ve been receiving donations here in the Wasatch Front.
Jesse Anderson: (21:43)
We’ve got three collection sites, and we encourage that private sector that still wants to contribute to go through those donation platforms, as we’ve seen both in a fiscal aspect, but also in actual physical donations. We continue to coordinate among our state and our local partners. That is a key component of making this successful throughout the entire state. Every day that coordination is going out. And three times a week we’re on coordination calls with our county officials to be able to make sure that messaging is appropriate. We continue to identify emergency funding sources. And as I mentioned, declaring our major disaster is one of those areas that we can rely upon or at least ask for some of those funding resources from the federal government. We’ve been able to translate several public materials and documents into Spanish, but also other languages, which has been very key and critical for the operations to go forward to reach all of our platforms, and including having the American sign language interpreting here at our press conferences.
Jesse Anderson: (22:59)
We’ve also been able to provide advice to the private sector and their businesses. As I mentioned, working with the economic side of the house. And of course, we continue to track the spread of the disease, working with the brightest of minds and the doctors who are in place and in the medical industry. Tracking, as well as updating on projections of what that begins to look like for us here in the state. That’s just a few of the daily operations of what’s happening coming out of our emergency operations center. I can tell you that things are moving very quickly. We are in an urgent phase. We have just put hours sometimes, but also days that we’re trying to get on top of this, trying to come up with solutions and try and present the best policies moving forward and make those decisions that need to be made to protect all of us here in the State of Utah. Thank you.
Gary Herbert: (24:01)
Thank you, commissioner. Again, just a reminder that you can get additional information, a lot of facts and questions answered and instruction on what to do to go to our webpage at coronavirus.utah.gov. Coronavirus.utah.gov. With that, we have a couple of minutes for some questions if you have any questions.
Speaker 3: (24:28)
Yeah. Governor, there has been a call lately for people to contact your office about the idea of a possible rent freeze or eviction freeze, particularly in the month of April. Any thoughts on that? Is the state looking at that?
Gary Herbert: (24:44)
All things are on the table bend to see what we can do to help employers and employees, certainly renters and landlords. We hope that there’s opportunities for them to work together to maybe give some forgiveness or delay the payment of rent. We understand that landlords sometimes have mortgage payments though that they’ve got to make. They rely on the rents to enable them to make those mortgage payments, not have the bank foreclose, which adds another third-party. And that is our banks and financial institutions that have the mortgages on these properties. Again, we’ve talked to some of the banks, I have personally, that are willing to in fact forgo foreclosure and give some grace periods of time on the mortgages.
Gary Herbert: (25:25)
I expect that when we come into a special session, which I think will be necessary here in the in the next few weeks, I’ll work with the legislative leadership on determining the time. But as we come into to address budgetary issues with a slowdown of revenues, the postponing of the fighting for income tax, for example, your taxes on April 15th had been moved to July 15th as we mirror what’s being done on the federal level. There’s other discussions which will occur on tax policy. So that discussion is certainly on the table. No decisions have been made, but maybe in the next two or three weeks there might be some issues there. Last but not least, what I think is going to be more helpful, at least certainly as helpful, is going to be either relief package from the Care Act from Washington DC.
Gary Herbert: (26:18)
There’s going to be significant money in there to help with small business to help keep businesses afloat so they can continue to employ people, and not have to lay off those employees. And if we do that, and I think that’s a better way to keep the economy afloat during this tough time, and it gives a blanket overall approach to help businesses and employees at the same time. So I expect you’re going to see more about that and the programs available. Again, I’ll remind everybody our workforce services, the director there, Jon Pierpont is prepared to help people, employers, employees with the challenges they face economically that helped them line up with programs and give them personal assistance. Next question.
Gary Herbert: (27:02)
Assistance. Next question.
Speaker 4: (27:09)
Hi. Yeah. I wanted to ask about the transmission rate. Governor, when you announced the utilities together plan a week ago, I believe the transmission rate was around a 1.5. So I was wondering if it’s still around there or if you know what that transmission rate is currently and if you’re still expecting, you know the urgent phase to I believe it was supposed to last another six to 12 weeks or so? Is that still kind of the timeframe you’re looking at?
Gary Herbert: (27:42)
Yes. I don’t think it’s changed much. We are doing the data analysis. Our epidemiologist, Dr. Dunn, might have more information. She’ll be here later today to give her a report working with our office of management and budget. Again, part of this effort is to see exactly what the transmission rate is. We hope to get it down below one. That means that we will start shrinking the number of infections out there. We want to get down to one to one or 1.6. That’s when you start turning it down. One to 1.5 means we’re increasing, which is not what we want to have done.
Gary Herbert: (28:23)
We do believe that right now for everyone that we’ve tested and found to have the infection of COVID-19 there is probably 5.5, five and a half others out there who have not been tested. So if we have whatever we have out there, a thousand people have infection, there’s probably 5,500 out there that really do have it that we don’t know about. We have not been able to test. So again, if you have symptoms, we want you to get and get tested. We have the capacity now to test people that have the symptoms. Don’t hesitate, contact your healthcare provider, your doctor and go to an instant care place and call them.
Gary Herbert: (29:03)
They will make arrangements for you to be tested immediately. That’s an important aspect of what we need to do and be responsible and we have that capacity which we’re building up to be able to handle those who have symptoms. And we’d like to get to the point where anybody who wants to be tested just as a curiosity to say, am I okay, we would like to get to that point where everybody can be tested. That’s when we will really get a handle on the spread and stop it from happening. But I expect that we’re probably about the same number. I hesitate to say it’s getting better until we have the data to back that up.
Gary Herbert: (29:39)
Any other question?
Gary Herbert: (29:52)
If we have a business of, I understand we have a business that has somebody who has COVID-19 what’s the proper protocol of business to shut down or what do they do? Certainly, what has been happening is they need to work with their local health department. They’re the ones that really have the ability to give you a clean bill of health. Most businesses in fact go through a very significant sanitation effort and some, like our airlines are fogging the plane. They actually, after every every flight, fog the plane and wipe it all down.
Gary Herbert: (30:27)
If we have a business that has somebody that’s exposed, we track and trace the people who’ve been exposed to the person that’s been exposed to go COVID-19 or has the coronavirus. And they will all be tested and then the businesses needs to go through and clean out, make sure wherever they’ve been and wherever they’ve been exposed to that that has been wiped down with Clorox sanitation napkins to make sure that it’s safe for people to come back. Again, this is an effort we all need to embrace. We need to exhibit patience because it’s disruptive to the business and maybe the customers needing help.
Gary Herbert: (31:04)
But we need to have first and foremost the protection of the health and welfare of the people. If we do that, then the economy is going to come back. So they’re again are joined to the hip. It’s not one versus the other. So work with your local health department, follow good common sense and hygiene practices, be able to keep on with your business. Any other question?
Speaker 5: (31:27)
Hey, I was just wondering, the command operation is supposed to be helping to deploy protective equipment. Do you think that you will have enough to give to people who aren’t necessarily in the medical fields such as law enforcement?
Gary Herbert: (31:45)
Okay. Commissioner Anderson.
Commissioner Anderson: (31:52)
So if I understand the question, it has to do with our personal protective equipment and in relation to the stockpile that we are collecting here at the state level and how that gets deployed out. I can tell you that as you can imagine, having access to all of that necessary equipment and/or protective gear has become very hard to come by at this point, as it’s called upon throughout the world. Having said that, we have received a couple of shipments from our FEMA counterparts from the national stockpile in which they have shared with us.