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Owens holds 695-vote lead over McAdams in back-and-forth 4th District race

Republican Burgess Owens maintained a lead he gained over U.S. Rep. Ben McAdams, D-Utah, this weekend in the Utah 4th Congressional District race as additional ballots were counted on Monday in three counties.

The 4th District race has been a roller-coaster since the first results rolled in on election night, with both candidates trading off leads separated by a few thousand or hundred votes.

McAdams was ahead of his Republican challenger heading into the weekend with a 405-vote lead. On Saturday, however, additional ballots from Salt Lake County pushed Owens ahead with 688 votes more than the Democratic incumbent.

That lead grew slightly, to 695, on Monday with additional ballots reported from three counties, giving Owens 154,217 votes, 47.54%, and McAdams 153,522 votes, 47.33%.

Of the approximately 18,000 ballots from Salt Lake County that were counted on Monday, McAdams gained 8,478 votes and Owens gained 8,415 votes, giving McAdams an 11-point edge in the county. On Friday, he had a 13-point advantage.

In Sanpete County, Owens gained 68 votes on Monday while McAdams gained seven votes, putting Owens ahead 74.3% to 19.5% in the central Utah county.

In Juab County, McAdams gained one vote while Owens picked up 10 votes, doing little to shift Owens’ 66-point lead.

Utah County, where there are a few hundred ballots in the 4th District race left to count, according to the Utah County Elections Division, did not update its numbers on Monday afternoon.

Of the remaining ballots left to count in the neck and neck congressional race, the majority are in Salt Lake County.

The race is reminiscent of the 2018 4th District race between McAdams and incumbent Republican Rep. Mia Love, which was decided by 694 votes. McAdams received 134,964 votes, 50.1%, while Love received 134,270 votes, 49.9%. It took two weeks of counting ballots before the race was called.

“As we’ve noted before, the vote totals continue to fluctuate,” Andrew Roberts, McAdams’ campaign manager, said in a statement Monday. “We remain confident that Ben prevails in the race to represent Utah’s 4th District.”

“We are grateful to Utah’s election clerks for their dedication in processing Utahns’ ballots,” continued Roberts.

The Owens campaign had not issued a statement at the time this story was published, but Owens shared a tweet on Monday afternoon showing him in the lead.

As of Monday, Libertarian Party candidate John Molnar had received 3.16% of votes while United Utah Party candidate Jonia Broderick had gotten 1.97%.

Utah officials voice support for new COVID-19 restrictions, some residents protest

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert spent Monday morning clarifying new COVID-19 restrictions and a state of emergency he declared late Sunday night in response to hospitals statewide being overwhelmed with coronavirus patients.

Those new restrictions, which went into effect at 1 p.m. on Monday, include a statewide mask mandate, limits on informal social gatherings to households-only, pausing some extracurricular and athletic events and requiring all college students attending in-person classes to get tested weekly by Jan. 1.

Additionally, under the new restrictions, businesses that fail to require employees and promote patrons to wear masks and socially distance could be subject to a $10,000 fine per incident.

The executive and public health orders issued by Herbert and the Utah Department of Health on Sunday will be in effect until Nov. 23, at which point state officials will re-evaluate the orders.

“We should see some results if we do what we’re being asked to do,” the governor said at a press conference Monday. “If people don’t change their behavior, nothing will change.”

The new restrictions were implemented as Utah continues to see a surge in COVID-19 cases statewide and amid pleas from health experts for executive action and leadership from state officials.

“This is ridiculous but expected without leadership from (Herbert and Lt. Gov. and Governor-elect Spencer Cox),” Emily Spivak, an associate professor of medicine with the University of Utah Health’s Division of Infectious Diseases, tweeted on Thursday in response to a reported 2,807 new cases and seven new deaths. “LEAD the people of Utah. This is the biggest avoidable catastrophe of our lifetime and we’re just watching. We must make policy NOW to protect our neighbors and hospitals.”

Under Utah’s COVID-19 Transmission Index guidelines, 23 of 29 counties already had a mask mandate in place before the new restrictions went into effect.

“But we did think that there was a little confusion out there as far as who was in and who was out, and so because of the crisis that we’re facing here right now today, we decided to make that mask mandate just statewide,” Herbert said on Monday.

“But mostly because of the overcrowding of our hospitals. They are really at the brink of not being able to take any more people,” the governor added, noting that some Utah hospitals have had to turn away out-of-state patients.

When asked about the timing of the new restrictions, which were implemented less than a week after the general election, Herbert said “it has only to do with data” and “nothing to do with elections.”

“It has really to do with the information we’ve received and trying to develop the best policy we can,” he said.

Reactions to the new restrictions varied in Utah County, which over the summer was home to multiple rallies in opposition to county and state coronavirus-related restrictions.

According to Mary Ann Neilsen of Utahns for Medical Freedom, an anti-mask group that tried to fight the Provo and Utah County mask orders through the referendum process, there are protests planned in Utah County and across the state in response to the new restrictions.

Later Monday afternoon, a group of between 50-75 people protested outside Herbert’s home in Orem. The group displayed anti-mask signs, spoke through a megaphone and chanted slogans.

Utah County Commissioner Tanner Ainge, one of two commissioners who voted in September in favor of a now-expired countywide mask mandate, voiced support for the restrictions on Twitter.

“With 5 very social kids who are active in sports, this will cause tantrums and frustrations in our home,” Ainge wrote. “But, we will do our part in following this order. The overwhelmed doctors, nurses and hospitals need us right now — as do our vulnerable neighbors + anyone who may need an ER/ICU.”

Recently reelected U.S. Rep. John Curtis, R-UT, said he “applaud(ed) the Governor for taking decisive action to keep Utahns safer.”

“We cannot continue on this trajectory — following … (Herbert’s) executive order now will avoid further devastation to our families, communities and businesses later,” the 3rd Congressional District representative tweeted.

State health officials reported 2,247 new coronavirus cases statewide on Monday, including 538 new cases in Utah County.

New city attorney hire paves way for Vineyard to focus on transportation

Jayme L. Blakesley, has been named the new city attorney for Vineyard city, according to Mayor Julie Fullmer.

Blakesley replaces long-term attorney David Church, who had served Vineyard for 18 years. In October, Church retired from multiple cities, including Vineyard and the Utah League of Cities and Towns.

“Vineyard is what it is today due to David Church taking us through the transition of growth,” Fullmer said. He has touched the lives of people throughout all of Utah, and they don’t even know it, and maybe he doesn’t even know to what extent he has either.”

With Vineyard growing rapidly and also needing a strong representative that understands transportation concerns, Fullmer and the Vineyard City Council have put their confidence in Blakesley.

“I knew instantly he would serve Vineyard well,” Fullmer said. “He made a great impression on our team, and we are excited to start working together.”

Blakesley is an attorney with Hayes Godfrey Bell, P.C. Hayes Godfrey Bell specializes in representing local government entities, including Fruit Heights, Farmington, Holladay, and Woods Cross. Blakesely has particular experience in transit-oriented development and will be an asset to Vineyard City in developing its multi-modal transportation hub, Fullmer said.

Blakesley is a graduate of Brigham Young University, received his Juris Doctorate from the University of Utah, S.J. Quinney College of Law in 2004, and is licensed to practice law in Utah, Oregon and before the U.S. Supreme Court, according to biographical information.

Before joining the firm in 2018, Blakesley served as General Counsel for the Utah Transit Authority, Deputy General Counsel and Director of Real Property for the Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon in Portland, and as an attorney with the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Transit Administration, in Washington, DC.

“Vineyard is a regional cross-section for transportation and transit for Utah County,” Fullmer said. “In the last three years we have been making headway in closing several contracts with Union Pacific Railroad, The FTA, Utah’s Department of Transportation, and Utah’s transit authority.”

Fullmer added, “These contracts will have an incredible impact on surrounding cities and the region as a whole. Movement in closing these contracts has been a giant feat for Vineyard, and with David Church retiring, we knew we needed someone that could help us continue to navigate entrenched legalities, engage in high-stakes negotiations, and create paths forward to provide best outcomes for Vineyard and the region we serve.”

Blakesley will continue to work at the law firm’s headquarters in Holladay as he serves Vineyard.

“Vineyard City is an amazing place with great leadership. Thank you to Mayor Fullmer, the city council, city manager, and city staff for welcoming me to the team with open arms,” Blakesley said in an email. “As with any well-run organization, there is lots to do. I can’t wait to roll up my sleeves and get to work.”

Blakesley’s job as city attorney was made official at the Oct. 28 meeting of the city council.

Utah County schools mostly unaffected by state's new restrictions

With a recent Utah Education Association call to move secondary schools to remote learning and the new state of emergency from Governor Gary Herbert, there are some questions surrounding local schools and their moves to in-person learning during the current COVID-19 case spike.

On Friday, the Utah Education Association called for Herbert to move all secondary schools to remote learning in high-transmission areas.

That was then followed up by the announcement of a state of emergency on Sunday.

For local schools, it seems as if the state of emergency will have no immediate impact.

“As far as school, we will continue with our school plan,” said Kimberly Bird, Alpine School District assistant to the superintendent. “We believe in having kids in face-to-face learning as much as possible. We do not perceive any changes to our school schedule at this time.”

The biggest changes involve winter sports and the postponement of tryouts and practices for the mandated two-week period.

On top of this, there will be no extracurricular activities for the following two weeks as well.

“Until we hear differently, we’re just going to go ahead with the regular school day as it is now and hope that the case numbers will come down as community members follow the guidelines that have been put out with this state of emergency,” said David Stephenson, Alpine School District administrator of public relations.

In the Nebo and Provo school districts, the same rang true.

For Nebo, there have been no shutdowns of schools or the movement to an alternative schedule as a result of COVID-19 case counts.

“We’ve been able to keep a fairly low count and in some schools we haven’t had any COVID-19 cases,” said Lana Hiskey, Nebo School District spokesperson. “I know the other districts have had to go on alternating day schedules but we haven’t had any of that in Nebo yet. I’m always cautiously optimistic.”

For the Provo School District, its secondary schools moved into Phase 2 as of Monday.

This means that all secondary schools will have students attending classes four days a week on a shortened schedule, just like what the Alpine School District is doing.

“Really nothing has changed as far as how our schools operate,” said Caleb Price, Provo School District spokesperson. “Kids are going to school, they were already required to were masks every day so the mask mandate hasn’t changed anything or added anything to what we’re doing. The biggest change is the postponement of winter sports and after-school activities for at least two weeks.”

As for the UEA’s statement calling for the governor to move secondary schools to remote learning, it cited that the current strategies to address COVID-19 in the state were not working.

Another big focus for UEA was on the teachers.

“The juggling of multiple and continually changing teaching modalities, combined with the stress of a school environment that puts personal and family health at risk, has created an untenable situation for our Utah educators,” the statement read. “Immediate action is required to not only address the pandemic, but also to stave off what we fear will be a wave of teachers choosing to leave the profession due to increasingly unacceptable working conditions.”

With regards to the statement, Bird said the thought of completely online learning is troubling.

“As school officials we hesitate ... at the thought of going fully online, we do not believe that is what’s best for kids,” Bird said. “We’re going to do all we can to maintain school in person, face-to-face as much as possible.”

Bird also mentioned that the spread of COVID-19 mostly happens when students are outside of school. This is what has been impacting the spread the most.

The school district will do its part to enforce mask wearing, social distancing and hygiene practices, but it has to be a community effort.

“There’s a lot of people on both sides of the argument and so as a district we are focused on educating kids and providing the best educational experience that we can,” Price said. “Right now our board has decided that having them in school four days a week in Phase 2 is what is best for our students. If we’re required by state officials or local officials to make changes to that, we’ll work with those groups as needed.”

For Nebo, only 6% of students have requested only online learning for the school year and Hiskey confirmed that teachers were in the high 90% in terms of teaching in the classrooms this year.

“Honestly, I don’t know about any that did not want to stay in the classroom in Nebo School District,” Hiskey said about teachers.

With the holiday season approaching, safety guidelines outside of school will be key.

As families gather for holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, the big question will be how schools will respond to a possible spike in COVID-19 cases.

Alpine and Provo districts expressed that they have dealt with holidays already and are planning on responding as they have previously.

Bird likened it to the Labor Day weekend holiday, one that led to an uptick in COVID-19 cases for the Alpine School District. She added that the district’s efforts will not change with the holidays approaching.

“It’s very similar to when we were heading into fall break, we encouraged people to practice the safety measures as much as possible when they’re outside of the schools but that’s what we can do,” Price said of the Provo School District’s experience with case spikes after holidays. “We can’t tell people to not get together with their families or to do this or that, we encourage safety as much as possible and leave it at that.”

The resounding hope from the districts is that the community can come together to slow the spread of COVID-19, thus keeping children in the classroom.