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Utah starts a coronavirus task force, even though risk to people remains low

Utah's coronavirus task force met at the Emergency Operations Center at the state capitol over the weekend to come up with a plan to fight the deadly virus. (Photo: Kelli Pierce)

SALT LAKE CITY – Utah lawmakers, health departments, and faith-based organizations have formed a coronavirus task force in case it ever becomes widespread in the state.

The coronavirus task force met over the weekend to work on plans if schools, churches, businesses, mass transit, and other public spaces had to be closed due to widespread coronavirus.

Though, at a news conference at the state capitol on Monday, Governor Gary Herbert and others stressed that the risk of coronavirus to the regular person remains low.

Governor Herbert also asked regular people, families, and businesses to have their own safety plans in place in the unlikely event of widespread infection. He also encouraged people to check on vulnerable populations.

“We have a responsibility, in fact, to do what we can to help our neighbors. It might be a shut-in, it might be some elderly couple that doesn’t know or doesn’t get out,” Herbert said.

The coronavirus task force also plans on launching an official website to fight misinformation online.

To that end, Governor Herbert said buying bottled water is “an overreaction” because a coronavirus outbreak would not affect the water supply.

Utah is dipping into its rainy day fund to pay for the coronavirus task force. However, the governor was encouraged after getting a call from Vice President Mike Pence, who is leading US efforts to fight the virus, saying Utah could qualify for a share of $2 billion in federal funds that would go to help localities deal with the disease.

State epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn reiterated that the risk of infection is low, but she would not be surprised if more people get it.

“We can definitely expect community spread of COVID-19 in Utah,” Dunn said. She added that it is a “highly communicative” disease with the elderly one of the most at risk for serious complications.

Dunn says if we begin to see a spread, a way to fight it would be to stop mass gatherings which could potentially entail closing schools and not going to church on the weekends.

Currently, one person is being treated in Utah for coronavirus. At least 17 people have been screened for it. 15 of those tests have come back negative and two are awaiting results.

Salt Lake City International Airport has also been screening passengers who are traveling to Utah from mainland China.