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Utah County Jail taking steps to protect employees, inmates from COVID-19

Jails and prisons around the country are bracing for the spread of COVID-19 and Utah County Jail is no exception.

According to Sheriff Mike Smith, many safety measures have been enacted to protect the employees and inmates at the jail from exposure to COVID-19.

“We want to assure everyone we are working diligently to provide health and safety for our inmate population,” he said. “We apologize for any inconveniences some of these new policies may cause.”

Smith said that the Sheriff’s Office is asking law enforcement officers for alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent crimes, such as cite and release.

“Crimes that would expose our communities to danger, such as violent offenders, sex offenders and substantial warrants will be admitted into jail,” he said.

The jail, located in Spanish Fork, usually houses an average of 550 to 600 inmates per day. According to Chief Deputy Matthew Higley, those numbers have dropped recently due to virus concerns. This last week, the number was closer to 420 inmates.

The jail’s medical staff is screening arrestees for any signs or symptoms related to COVID-19. This screening takes place in the sally port before they are brought into the jail, according to Smith. Medical staff members as well as deputies are watching for any signs or symptoms of COVID-19 with inmates. The jail facility itself is being sanitized more carefully and frequently.

Additionally, the medical staff is instructing inmates on proper hygiene. Information about COVID-19 and best hygiene practice information has been distributed throughout all housing areas and booking.

“We have put all signs up in English and Spanish for the inmates and staff,” Smith said. “Our primary concern is health and safety.”

Several years ago, the Utah County Jail made the switch to video visitation, which means visits are done remotely and visitors do not need to actually come to the jail if they have access to a computer or other device.

“We have a few visitation monitors at the Sheriff’s Office and they are still available to use for the public. We have not shut them down yet due to the virus,” Higley said. “However, we are encouraging people to stay home and visit remotely.”

Other safety practices now being put into place in light of the pandemic include the suspension of volunteer services, modification of food handling practices and emergency sick leave and options for employees with signs and symptoms of COVID-19.

Access to protective equipment is one of the challenges that the jail is experiencing.

“We are very concerned for our staff and the inmates and we are working on getting additional personal protective equipment for everyone in the jail as we anticipate that we will run out of our supplies sometime next week,” Higley said. “Our medical division director has been working on this issue pretty much non-stop for the past week.”

Some of these needed protective supplies include masks, eye protection and gowns.

“We have been going through our current supplies of these items pretty quickly and we cannot get them from our usual sources,” Higley said. “As you can imagine, these items are in very high demand right now. This is making it very difficult for us.”

Smith said as they move forward, jail administration will continue to evaluate best practices policies in these extraordinary circumstances to provide safety and stability to the Utah County community.

Orem concerned about small businesses; low interest loans available

The 12-mile stretch of State Street in Orem and its crossroad University Parkway are checkered with small businesses that help keep city coffers afloat in sales tax revenue and help make Orem a vibrant retail backbone of Utah County.

In a Daily Herald story printed March 1, Orem’s financial director Brandon Nelson made the following statement in reference to the budget process for the 2020-21 fiscal year:

“Orem is doing very well financially, but signs of financial unrest nationally, a natural disaster or a city emergency, could change that instantly,” Nelson said.

His words were prophetic.

In February, financial consultant Laura Lewis, with Lewis, Young, Robertson and Burningham, reported to the City Council about data she gathered on Orem’s long-term financial sustainability to 2040.

According to the analysis, Orem has a great retail center and healthy sales tax revenue.

“Revenues fluctuate with the economy,” Lewis said. “If the state changes the (tax) formula, there will be a more service-based economy. The impact from any future changes in the formula is unknown.”

Lewis noted there are many things that can affect the economy. “The coronavirus could have negative impacts. You don’t know how it affects you — yet.”

For small business owners and their employees, what started as a prosperous new year has changed with the onslaught of a world pandemic. With self-quarantine, social distancing, forced closures or shortened work days, times are getting tougher and that seemingly appears to be the paradigm for the near future, according to national, state and local health and government leaders.

Kathi M. Lewis, Orem Economic Development division manager, is keeping a close eye on Orem’s small businesses and hoping things like the recent Small Business Administration loan program will help keep retailers’ doors open.

“The City of Orem and our Economic Development Division are working diligently to provide accurate and timely information about helpful resources to assist our over 5,000 businesses within our city limits,” Lewis said.

“As the retail hub of Utah County, it is crucial for the city to maintain its tax base while making sure our valued businesses remain open and successful,” Lewis added.

In a letter to Utah cities, Ryan Starks, managing director of business services with the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, said cities throughout the entire state are eligible for loans.

“In partnership with Utah’s congressional delegation, the state emergency management division, and the Utah Governor’s Office, we are pleased to announce that all 29 counties in Utah are now eligible to apply for low-interest loans through the Small Business Administration,” Starks said in the letter.

“While we recognize this loan program will not solve all of our economic challenges, it will serve as an effective tool for businesses affected by COVID-19,” Starks added. “Additionally, Governor Herbert convened an economic council to discuss additional strategies to support local businesses.”

Lewis said the city cares deeply for each of its businesses and will continue to look for ways to help them navigate this difficult and trying time.

“We are hopeful that the Small Business Administration (SBA) Low Interest Loan Program will provide some needed relief to those businesses that are affected by this health crisis,” Lewis said. “We welcome and encourage residents to continue to patronize our small businesses as our current situation allows. Remember, our local businesses represent the hopes and dreams of many families.”

To apply for SBA loans, visit the following site: https://sba.gov/funding-programs/disaster-assistance.

United Way sets up COVID-19 community response fund

With many Utahns currently experiencing financial and other daily life concerns, multiple United Ways of Utah have joined forces to make sure those on limited resources can find help.

“The United Ways of Utah have set up a COVID-19 Community Response Fund to help families affected by the effort to stop the spread of the virus,” said Bill Hulterstrom, president and CEO of United Way of Utah County. “The fund is designed to ensure that economically vulnerable Utahns have the help they need to cover basics such as rent, mortgage, childcare and food.”

The fund will support Utah 211’s statewide partners that connect families to resources for the following:

  • Rental assistance or mortgage payment assistance
  • Crisis nurseries and child care providers
  • Healthcare services
  • Food and hygiene needs
  • 211 information and referral

“The Utah County community has a history of coming together when we are facing difficult times,” Hulterstrom said. “This fund is a way for all of us to take care of each other and make sure those in real need have access to help and support.”

Businesses and individuals have already stepped up to start building the fund coffers.

“I was so excited when Nu Skin called to ask how they could help,” said Janie Brigman, corporate engagement and marketing director of United Way of Utah County. “Nu Skin will be donating $15,000 to the Community Fund to support Utah County individuals and families. It is also great to see even small businesses like Virtual Crown Productions & Consulting jump in to donate $2,000 to their local community.”

Karen McCandless, executive director of Community Action Services and Food Bank, said her organization is on the front lines with emergency food, shelter and housing services and is ready to share its expertise during the effects of COVID-19.

“We are grateful for the opportunity to partner with United Way of Utah County and the community to determine needs for the COVID Response Community Fund,” she said.

For more information or to donate, dial 211 or visit http://unitedwayuc.org/COVID-19.

Those seeking assistance can dial 211 from any phone, text their zip code to 898-211, or visit http://211utah.org for help.

Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, Sen. Deidre Henderson limit campaign, urge pandemic support

Utah gubernatorial candidate Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and running mate Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, have temporarily limited their campaign activity and are urging supporters to donate to neighbors and friends who have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

In a letter to supporters posted to social media Friday, Cox and Henderson said that a public health crisis “is not the time for new expensive ads, fancy call centers, or fundraising asks.”

“As many of you were planning on making a contribution to our campaign, please think of someone who might need it more than we do,” the letter said.

The two candidates said they have canceled campaign events, taken TV ads down and moved meetings to online. They asked supporters to think about who in their community could benefit from the money they would have donated to the campaign.

“Find out which of your neighbors will miss paychecks,” Cox and Henderson said. “Leave a larger tip when you pick up take-out from your local restaurant. Gift a bike or video game to a child down the street. Help a healthcare worker whose daycare budget has run out. Send a member of your staff experiencing a lighter workload to pick up an elderly neighbor’s groceries.”

Henderson, who withdrew as a candidate for reelection to the Utah Senate last week to run for lieutenant governor, said she and Cox are currently more concerned with public wellbeing than with campaigning.

“As you and your family tighten your financial belt, we are committed to doing so along with you,” Henderson tweeted.

On Thursday, Cox placed Henderson in charge of “day-to-day campaign responsibilities” while he chairs the Utah Coronavirus Task Force. Henderson, whose Senate term ends in January, told the Daily Herald that her responsibilities as a state senator would take priority over campaigning.

The running mates received praise on social media for their decision to limit campaigning by suspending TV ads and canceling events.

“Not sure I’ve ever seen that (from a campaign) before, but it makes me want to do my part,” Utah County Commissioner Tanner Ainge tweeted. “This is a different type of campaign.”

Don Stirling, executive vice president of the Utah Jazz, thanked Cox and Henderson “for the leadership and for doing the right thing.”

The coronavirus pandemic has forced other candidates for governor to shift their campaign strategies as well.

Provo-based businessman Jeff Burningham, who is running as a Republican, announced on March 13 that he would suspend signature gathering to prevent COVID-19 from spreading.

“In a competitive and crucial campaign in our state this was a difficult decision, but I am sure it was the right one,” Burningham said in a written statement. “I could not in good conscience send my team and volunteers out door-to-door when we are facing a serious public health crisis.”

Republican candidate and Salt Lake County Councilwoman Aimee Winder Newton also stopped gathering signatures but did not cite coronavirus concerns as a reason for doing so.

Former Utah GOP Chairman Thomas Wright and running mate U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, suspended town halls on March 13 “to minimize exposure” to coronavirus and said they will hold “tele-town hall meetings” instead.