A1 A1
Utah County classified as ‘high’ transmission level under new COVID-19 Transmission Index

Social gatherings in Utah County and other “high” transmission areas in Utah will be limited to 10 people or less under the new state COVID-19 guidelines that were announced on Tuesday.

During a press conference, Gov. Gary Herbert retired his color-coded Utah Leads Together plan and announced the implementation of a COVID-19 Transmission Index that ranks counties as having high, moderate or low transmission levels based on a series of public health metrics.

Effective Thursday, per public health order and public health directive, masks will be required to be worn in public in indoor settings where physical distancing is not feasible in counties that are classified as having high or moderate levels of transmission, according to Richard Saunders, interim executive director of the Utah Department of Health.

Additionally, under the new state coronavirus guidelines, Saunders said informal social gatherings in high and moderate counties would be limited to 10 individuals or less.

Counties are classified based on three data points: case rates, positivity rates and ICU utilization.

“Data will be analyzed weekly, and counties will be placed into a transmission level depending solely on what their data show,” said the state health department in a summary of the COVID-19 Transmission Index. “Changes for a lower level to a higher level may occur weekly. Changes from a higher level to a lower level may occur every 14 days at a minimum, when thresholds are met.

“A transmission level (high, moderate, low) is determined if a county has two of the three metrics in the designated level of transmission,” the health department added.

Utah County is one of six counties currently classified as having a high transmission level. The other counties are Salt Lake, Wasatch, Juab, Cache and Garfield.

There are 15 counties classified as moderate, including Weber, Tooele, Summit and Box Elder. The eight counties with low levels of transmission include Rich, Emery, Beaver and Piute.

After Oct. 29, social gatherings in moderate counties will be limited to 25 people or fewer but can exceed that if all individuals wear masks.

As of Tuesday, Utah County had a 14-day case rate of 714.2 per 100,000 people and a seven-day average positivity rate of 17.9%, which are both above the 324 per 100,000 and 12.9% respective thresholds for a moderate classification.

The new restrictions and guidelines were put in place more than a month into a continuing surge in statewide coronavirus cases, which have hovered around 1,000 new daily cases for weeks.

“Unfortunately, over the last four weeks, we have seen our infection and case rates skyrocket to the highest they have ever been,” the governor said.

“And worst of all, our hospitals are getting overwhelmed, and our healthcare workers are getting stretched too thin to provide the best possible care,” Herbert added.

Saunders said a significant amount of spread over the past weeks has occurred through informal social gatherings, such as small gatherings between extended family members or college and high school students.

Saunders noted that there would be no criminal enforcement of the mask requirements and limits on social gatherings.

To learn more about the new COVID-19 Transmission Index, visit http://coronavirus.utah.gov/utah-health-guidance-levels/.

Rep. Ben McAdams and Burgess Owens spar in Utah 4th Congressional District debate

Republican 4th Congressional District candidate Burgess Owens on Monday criticized his opponent’s voting record while U.S. Rep. Ben McAdams, D-UT, called out Owens for what he said was “a pattern of bad judgment.”

The two congressional candidates exchanged jabs Monday during a debate at the Triad Center in Salt Lake City hosted by the Utah Debate Commission that covered subjects ranging from healthcare to racism.

McAdams, Utah’s only Democrat in Congress, criticized his Republican challenger for appearing on multiple internet programs tied to the far-right conspiracy QAnon, which the FBI has identified as a potential domestic terrorism threat.

“I still don’t know what QAnon means and what they’re all about,” Owens said when asked about his appearances on the programs. “It doesn’t matter, because it doesn’t really reflect on anything I’m doing right now.”

McAdams pointed out that Owens appeared on a QAnon-linked program as recently as Sept. 23, after he had already been criticized for appearing on such a program.

“At what point are you responsible for the decisions you make?” said McAdams. “I think what we’re seeing here is a pattern of bad judgment.”

Owens, a former NFL player and founder of the nonprofit Second Chance 4 Youth, criticized McAdams for voting in line with Democratic Congressional leadership 85% of the time, as well as for not doing enough to address child trafficking.

“It’s nice to talk about, but when it comes down to it, action really is what we’re looking for,” Owens said. “And this has been a passion for me for forever.”

McAdams shot back that he had introduced legislation on the topic, including a November resolution to protect minors from inappropriate content on digital apps.

“This is something that I have been working on,” he said.

On the subject of healthcare, the two candidates argued about Owens’ position on repealing the Affordable Care Act, which would remove coverage for individuals with pre-existing conditions.

McAdams alleged that Owens had previously stated on his campaign website that he supported removing coverage for pre-existing conditions but later updated his position.

“If I’d seen that on my website I’d be concerned too,” Owens responded. “It never said that, my friends.”

An internet archive snapchat from Aug. 31 shows that the campaign website stated that “Obamacare must be fully repealed so we can take a new approach to the issue.” As of Tuesday, the website states that “Obamacare no longer needs to be repealed, but changes are necessary in the current healthcare plan.”

There is no specific mention of pre-existing conditions on either versions of the web page.

When asked about Black Lives Matter and calls for police reform following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Owens, who is Black and grew up in the segregated South, accused the group of being “against capitalism, against the nuclear family and … against God.”

“The idea that we’re a systemic racist country is totally false,” he said. “I grew up during the days of KKK (and) when you had separate bathrooms, separate fountains.”

McAdams said he acknowledged that “there are some bad apples” in law enforcement and said the officers involved in Floyd’s death “need to be held accountable and held responsible for their actions.”

When asked about whether he supported a statewide mandate, McAdams said he wears a mask in public and does his “best to model good behavior and then also to do my part to slow the virus.”

“And I think that’s what’s important for everybody in Utah,” McAdams said. “Let’s each and every one of us do our part, take responsibility for our actions, and do our part to help slow the spread of this virus and protect those who might be vulnerable.”

“I don’t support a statewide mandate,” Owens said.

Following Monday’s debate, the Owens campaign said the Republican “is a fighter, someone whose story and experiences reflect our great state.”

“The choice was clear tonight, Burgess Owens in the genuine voice that would represent Utah values in Washington D.C.,” Michael Clement, Owens’ campaign manager, said in a written statement.

“A lot was discussed during last night’s debate — and a clear difference between me and my opponent is protecting Utahns’ healthcare,” McAdams wrote on Twitter.

Jonia Broderick, the United Utah Party candidate in the 4th Congressional District race, announced in a press release Tuesday that she would endorse McAdams on Wednesday.

Orem resident's encounter with cougar brings rising, shouting in viral video

Kyle Burgess, an Orem resident, recently started trail running. His favorite run is the loop that starts at the Y trail and goes through Slate Canyon.

While on his regular run, Burgess went through a range of emotions, running into a cougar and its cubs.

“I start at the Y Canyon trail, but you can actually keep going up into that canyon and come down Slate Canyon to the parking lot,” Burgess said. “That’s kind of what my plan was. Coming down Slate Canyon I ended up seeing some wildlife, which is a normal occurrence for me. I have seen bobcats on the trail before so I normally take out my phone and start taking some pictures. It’s always fun to take pictures of wildlife I see on the trail to show my friends and family. This time, obviously, was very different.”

As Burgess took out his phone and started videotaping, he quickly realized that he was looking at cougar cubs. That’s when an adult cougar turned the corner and began heading in his direction.

In the video posted to Burgess’ YouTube channel, he quickly realized what was going on and began retreating.

At one point in the first minute of the encounter, Burgess began yelling at the cougar in an attempt to scare it off. The cougar snarled back.

“You’re good, little kitty cat,” Burgess said in the video. “What’s up, dude? Nice and slow.”

The retreat continued for the six-minute long video as the cougar continued to follow Burgess.

“Go get your babies,” Burgess said to the cougar in the video.

Every time he would take his eyes off the cougar, crouch down to pick up a rock or stumble on some rocks, the cougar would charge at him.

In the video, the cougar is seen pouncing at him with both front paws in the air.

“Honestly, those pounces were probably the scariest part,” Burgess said.

At the end of the video, Burgess picks up a rock and throws it at the cougar, which then runs away.

Burgess begins to scream in joy. The only thing left for him was to decide where he would go next. Burgess could either continue the way he was going, to where he originally encountered the cougar, or turn back and have a long trip to where he started his run.

With the help of his father-in-law’s advice, Burgess waited 30 minutes and continued the way he was going.

“I started heading back down the trail with a stick in one hand and a rock in the other,” Burgess said. “Not too much further I actually ran into two hikers that were coming up the trail. I said, ‘Did you guys see a cougar?’ and they thought I was trying to play a joke on them. I pulled my video out and they were like, ‘Wow, that is insane!’ They continued up the trail because I think they were doing the loop I was doing, just in the opposite direction.”

Burgess had a hard time processing the encounter, showing it to his family when he returned home after the run.

His family then began to joke that he should post the video to social media. The video was recorded on Saturday night and Burgess posted it on Sunday morning.

“We know what happened from there, this thing just went viral,” Burgess said.

As of Tuesday night the YouTube video had over 1.6 million views.

He added that since the video went viral, he has been doing interviews with local, national and international media outlets almost nonstop. In fact, he had just finished an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper before speaking with the Daily Herald.

While working two jobs that total 80 hours a week, Burgess considers himself a workaholic, so he doesn’t see much sleep to begin. All of the media inquiries and interviews has not made it any easier for him.

He said he’ll have interviews until about 5 p.m. with more interviews coming from 7 or 8 p.m. to 1:30 a.m., when he heads to his job for UPS.

The later interviews are for media outlets in countries like Australia or England.

Burgess said he posted the video with the purpose of showing his friends and family his experience, but the last couple of days have been a blur for him. His family has been lending a hand, setting up interviews with media and helping him with the instant fame he has seen.

According to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources’ website, Burgess did a lot of what is recommended when running into a cougar on a trail.

The website recommends not running from a cougar, making yourself look intimidating with firm words, keeping eye contact with the cougar and protecting the head and neck if attacked while fighting back.

You can find the full video of Burgess’s encounter on his YouTube page or his instagram account, @kunkyle.

Future of Timpview High School has been decided, interest rates are dependent on voters

Evidence of structural problems at Timpview High School were seen as early as the spring of 2017. The movement of soil beneath the building led to cracked walls, burst pipes and a cinder block falling through the ceiling of the library, according to the district.

Fast forward to 2020, and voters no longer have a say in whether or not the project will continue, however, their decision will impact the interest rates that could come with the bond.

In 2019, when officials from the Utah Division of Risk Management saw that the condition of the school was worse than they thought, they were looking at possibly withdrawing insurance for the school. Then, a bond on the 2019 ballot was turned down by voters, adding more fuel to the fire.

“After that, the board continued to monitor the situation,” Provo School District spokesperson Caleb Price said. “Timpview was becoming more and more dangerous to the point where state risk came in and said that if we didn’t start taking steps to mitigate the problems, they wouldn’t be able to insure us moving forward. That’s where the idea and concept for this bond came from, knowing that we had to do something with Timpview in working with state experts, contractors and architects. They were able to develop a plan to address just a portion of the school to mitigate the problems that were impacting the safety of students and teachers there.”

The portion of the school that is currently being worked on includes only the south gym and the academic wing of the high school. The construction also includes a water mitigation plan to prevent similar soil movement from happening again.

Price added that the district had to start construction immediately and could not wait for the bond to pass. The only other option it had was pursuing a lease revenue bond, which does not need to be passed on a ballot.

The board decided to start construction on the high school, ensuring it could move along with the project even if the bond is turned down on the 2020 ballot.

“This agreement, and the resulting bond, is the best choice for our students and the taxpayers,” according to a statement from the board, arguing in favor of the bond. “The alternative was to hold class in 40 portable classrooms. This would have displaced the majority of the school into a portable city and cost the taxpayers an additional $2.5 million per year until the building was reconstructed.”

The $80 million bond will appear on voters’ ballots in November, but the vote has nothing to do with the continuation of the project itself.

The vote, this year, presents two options. In this case, a “yes” vote means lower interest rates while a “no” vote means the board will borrow money at a higher interest rate.

“In simplified terms, it does come down to that,” Price said of the vote on interest rates. “The project needed to start, state risk made it clear we needed to start sooner rather than later, and in understanding the other bond was an option that could be used in a worst-case scenario, the board is able to do that and will do that if the bond fails.”

“So please vote for this bond because it will keep our children safe and will reduce the amount we end up paying in taxes,” the board’s pro statement reads.

During its meeting Tuesday night, the board set aside time to hear from members of the community regarding their thoughts on the proposed bond.

Only one man was present to speak to the board on Tuesday, advising he felt a duty to share his thoughts and was disheartened that the proposed bond in 2019 did not pass. He also brought up an article, which stated Utah was ranked as the 11th lowest in the country for property taxes.

“In the last two states I’ve lived in, my property taxes have pretty much been double what I pay in the state of Utah,” he said. “I really don’t have an issue with my property taxes going up 25, 50 or 100 bucks a year if it means the kids get to go to school in a building that is safe and an environment that is safe.

Lastly, the man brought up reported sales tax exemptions to businesses in the state. He also talked about tax credits that are given to businesses who make their way into the state of Utah.

He asked that the board look into those tax credits and what the taxpayers get in return for those credits before ending his speech.

The final decision on how the money will be handled for the project is up for decision by the voters in November.