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Utah may shift COVID-19 plan to focus on elderly, minority communities

FILE - In this April 21, 2020 file photo Utah Gov. Gary Herbert speaks during a news conference in South Jordan, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer,File)

SALT LAKE CITY – The Utah Leads Together Plan has been the roadmap for how the state fights the COVID-19 pandemic. But Utah’s focus may soon shift from designating “yellow” or “orange” risk areas to helping people most at-risk for getting a bad case of the virus.  

The state wants to “triage” or sort the risk between those who are more or less likely to be affected by COVID-19.

Natalie Gochnour from the University of Utah gave a sneak preview of the Utah Leads Together 3.0 plan to the Salt Lake Chamber on Tuesday. 

Though the plan has not been finalized yet, it would have guidelines for nursing facilities and businesses to help them protect at-risk people, as well as for people living with an at-risk person. 

Utah COVID-19 numbers

Gochnour said the Utah numbers show COVID-19 is affecting some groups more than others. 

“Seventy percent [70%] of those who’ve passed away are 65 years and older. Very sobering number. 90% plus of those who’ve passed away are 65 years and older and have other medical conditions,” Gochnour said. 

Natalie Gochnour Screenshot

They also want to protect those with underlying conditions. For example, people with diabetes are 250% more likely to end up in the hospital if they get COVID-19. 

Some of the proposed guidelines would require increased tracing and COVID-19 testing in nursing homes, and requiring people to wear face masks at businesses as well. 

It’s unclear if the state will keep classifying cities and counties as “orange” or “yellow” risk levels in the new plan. 

Aside from the greater risk COVID-19 poses to certain populations, Gochnour said the societal cost to those who do not have the disease has been great. 

“The impacts of COVID-19 go well beyond case counts, well beyond hospitalizations. In fact, it affects housing, food security, and healthy behaviors. Just for example, we’re concerned that people aren’t getting the preventative [medical] care that they need,” Gochnour said. 

Planners feel confident about changing the focus to the guidelines because Utah is meeting its transmission rate targets, the hospital intensive care units are not overwhelmed, and most people are getting the disease from someone they know, so community spread is low.

Economic recovery

The other two major parts of the plan would be to address the impacts of COVID-19 on multicultural communities and plant the seeds for an economic recovery. 

Governor Gary Herbert also took part in the virtual meeting and addressed Utah’s road to economic recovery. 

He did not want to downplay the seriousness of COVID-19, but he also feels Utah’s economy will start to rebound by the end of the summer as people get back to work. 

The governor also acknowledged that Utahns are still feeling anxious about their economic situation.

“We have polling [that] at least the majority of people in Utah now are more concerned about their loss of income and their livelihood than they are about getting sick,” Herbert said.