State Officials Create Utah COVID-19 Community Task Force, Website & Social Media Channels
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Gov. Gary Herbert announced the creation of the Utah COVID-19 Community Task Force as the state prepares for a possible outbreak of the coronavirus.
The task force will be led by Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and will be composed of Dr. Joseph Miner, executive director of the Utah Department of Health; Dr. Angela Dunn, state epidemiologist; and other public safety, health and community officials.
Officials also announced the creation of a website and social media channels to communicate with the public about the virus’ spread and impact in Utah. The Twitter account, @utahcoronavirus, will be live on Tuesday.
Cox said the task force will strive to provide the best information while debunking false information about the virus through those means. He also said Utahns should use trusted sources and be careful about sharing and trusting information on social media channels.
Herbert said officials are hoping for the best, minimal-impact outcome but are preparing for the worst, just in case.
“We have an opportunity, I think, to be ahead of this and to make sure that what we say and understand is not one to create panic but one to make sure that we’re safe and sound,” he said.
Overall, officials said to take basic precautions, such as washing your hands with warm water and soap, covering your cough or sneeze, staying home if you’re sick and avoiding touching your face with your hands to prevent the spread of the virus.
“Just some common sense things that we all need to probably be doing,” Herbert said.
Utah is “the most-prepared state in the nation” for any type of emergency, Cox said at the conference. He said the state’s current plan is built off of previous plans for outbreaks of infectious diseases such as the H1N1, Zika and Ebola viruses.
Dunn said that plan includes possible social distancing measures, such as school closures, not going to church on the weekend and canceling other mass gatherings.
“It is not a time to panic,” Cox said. “However, in preparation for if that time comes and this is spread and we do have to see those types of closures, this is not like an earthquake or a hurricane where we can rely on the federal government to come in or other states to come in because if it’s happening here, it’s likely going to be happening everywhere in the United States at that time. And this really is where Utah does what we do best…local communities, faith-based organizations, our local schools, working together to make sure that we take care of each other.”
Dunn said the risk of the virus remains low for Utahns despite community spread happening in pockets across the U.S. Currently, 65 people are being monitored as “at-risk” for potentially contracting the virus. Local health departments are reaching out to those people twice a day and checking for any symptoms.
Dunn said those individuals are maintaining quarantine in the case they do test positive for the virus.
Moving forward, she said the state can expect the number of cases of the “highly-communicable” disease to go up.
“We can definitely expect community spread of COVID-19 in Utah,” Dunn said. “That is happening in states surrounding us and that is what we are preparing for.”
Dunn added the majority of COVID-19 cases are mild, meaning individuals get a fever and a cough and then recover on their own. However, medically-vulnerable populations such as the elderly and those with underlying conditions can be severely impacted by the virus, she said.
Dunn also said the coronavirus outbreak is being treated more seriously than an influenza outbreak because there are currently no antivirals or vaccines against this virus, which data has shown is more deadly than the common flu.
“We’ve been having flu epidemics have occurred every year for decades,” she said. “So we’re able to study it, we know how it’s transmitted, the typical course of action. We’ve got a vaccine against it, we’ve got antivirals that treat it — not of that is true for COVID-19. So while this is looking very similar to flu, in that there’s a range of illness from mild to death, and it does tend to impact the vulnerable elderly, medically frail, populations more seriously, there’s still a lot of questions around exactly how is it transmitted. We don’t have a vaccine yet and we don’t have antivirals. So all of those unknowns cause a greater level of preparedness that needs to happen.”
LIVE: Gov. Herbert, state health officials are holding a press conference to discuss Utah's preparations for a possible COVID-19 outbreak.
Posted by KSL 5 TV on Monday, March 2, 2020
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How Do I Prevent It?
The CDC has some simple recommendations, most of which are the same for preventing other respiratory illnesses or the flu:
- Avoid close contact with people who may be sick
- Avoid touching your face
- Stay home when you are sick
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue and then throw the tissue in the trash
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing. Always wash your hands with soap and water if your hands are visibly dirty.
- If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
The CDC does not recommend wearing a facemask respirator to protect yourself from coronavirus unless a healthcare professional recommends it.
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