18 September 2021

  • Gabby Petito’s boyfriend is now missing, too. Here’s what we know
    Brian Laundrie (left) and Gabby Petito (right) together during their road trip across the country. | North Port Police Department

    Gabby Petito’s boyfriend is no longer at his home in North Port, Florida, raising suspicion about his whereabouts

    The case of Gabby Petito took another turn Friday night when police reported that her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, has now gone missing.

    Petito, 22, and Laundrie were on a cross-country road trip together this summer. On Sept. 1, Laundrie returned home without Petito. Then, on Sept. 11, Petito was reported missing. Her last known whereabouts were at Grand Teton National Park on Aug. 30.

    Since then, Laundrie has remained silent, invoking his Fifth Amendment right. Petito’s family called on Laundrie to speak about Petito’s last known appearance, but he did not do so.

    On Friday, police came to the Laundrie home at the request of the Laundrie family. According to reports, the police entered the home with an evidence bag and stayed for hours.

    When they left, the North Port Police said in a statement that Laundrie is now missing, too.

    • “The attorney for the Laundrie family called FBI investigators Friday night indicating the family would like to talk about the disappearance of their son,” the police said. “The family now claims that they have not seen Brian since Tuesday of this week.”

    The North Port Police said they had worked with the FBI for six days to find Gabby Petito. Now, Laundrie is no longer in his home and remains missing.

    • “We are not currently working a crime investigation. We are now working a multiple missing person investigations,” the police said.

    Petito’s family responded to the news in a short statement (per reporter Brian Enten) sent out by the family’s attorney, Richard Stafford:

    • “All of Gabby’s family want the world to know that Brian is not missing, he is hiding. Gabby is missing.”
  • This old-school newspaper guy read ‘Twilight.’ His book report went viral
    Illustration by Alex Cochran

    What started out as a penalty for finishing last in fantasy football turned into a million and a half views on TikTok

    As you might have already heard, I am a TikTok sensation.

    It all started when I finished last in the fantasy football league I was invited to join a couple of years ago by my friend and fellow Deseret News columnist Doug Robinson. The league is run by Doug’s son, Preston, the Commish, who writes witty weekly email roundups and everyone likes, unless you happen to finish last, and he (with help from his wife, Jen, who won last year) metes out the punishment for your shameful showing.

    My penalty was reading the book “Twilight” and giving a book report on it at the 2021 league draft held at Doug’s place on Tuesday night, Sept. 7. (A year earlier, my son, Eric, a University of Utah grad, finished in the cellar and had to put a “My Blood Type is Y” bumper sticker on his car, which I rather enjoyed.)

    So this was my report to my fellow league members:

    Here’s my book report on “Twilight,” the reading of which was my consequence for finishing last in the COVID version of Fantasy Football 2020. But first a story about when I was in high school and my twin brother Dee was caught fighting in the parking lot and was suspended from school for a week. Every morning, the alarm would go off, I’d get out of bed, get dressed and look over at my brother still sleeping. I thought, ‘He gets to sleep in and watch game shows on TV and I get to get up and go to school! There is something seriously wrong with this punishment.’

    That’s how it was with “Twilight.” While reading it, I found myself feeling sorry for the rest of the league who didn’t finish last and didn’t get to read it. I loved the book. Well, loved might be too big a word, but I enjoyed it a lot. I checked it out of the library right after I had completed my fantasy season, going from first to worst due to massive amounts of bad luck and bad advice, most of it from Brian (Robinson). I couldn’t even prevail in the Toilet Bowl against Collin (Robinson), who pays as much attention to fantasy football as he does to the weather patterns in Ethiopia.

    But back to “Twilight.” It’s written by a Latter-day Saint woman (a totally irrelevant bit of trivia thrown in here because this report is supposed to be a page long) named Stephenie Meyer, who lives in Phoenix. My brother-in-law Bill lives in Phoenix and knows her dad; says he’s a good guy. As a writer, Stephenie is no Stephen King, say, or certainly not a Doug Robinson, but she is a darn good storyteller. She had me at “I’d never given much thought to how I would die,” which is the book’s opening line.

    Every night for a week I couldn’t wait to check in to see how it was going for Bella and Edward, despite their age difference — she’s 17, he’s 104 — and dietary considerations — she doesn’t like blood; he enjoys it. I rode along with them on their madcap adventures, watched them fall in love, wondered why people at the high school didn’t pay more attention to the vampires, particularly the football coach. Who wouldn’t want a running back who could run a four-second 400? I cried when it ended.

    So that’s my report. Count me as one who is not a bit surprised that “Twilight” sold 25 million books, was translated into 26 languages, and was No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list. Call me a true believer. Call me a fan. Call it the only good thing that happened to me in fantasy football last year. Thank you for recommending it, Commish.

    Social media entered the picture when my son, Tanner, who is in North Carolina studying for a master’s degree in film at UNC-Wilmington, saw the video of my presentation, edited it, titled it “My Dad Had to Write a Book Report on Twilight” and posted it on TikTok, a kind of hipster/hippie version of YouTube for short attention spans that until a week and a half ago I knew as much about as the weather patterns in Ethiopia.

    Here is the link: TikTok Dad

    Turns out there are a lot of people out there who look at quirky videos. Turns out that even though “Twilight” was written 16 years ago, there is a thriving Twilight universe. Suddenly I was viraling — 200K views by the end of the first day, 400K by the next morning, 500K (officially viral) within 24 hours, one million by the end of the second day. A week later, the count was approaching 1.5 million. There have been nearly 3,000 comments: “He’s our dad now,” “ I cried too when it ended HEY BESTIE LET’S BE BESTIES TWIHARDS FOREVER,” “I want to start a book club, with me and him, only him,” “This is the greatest tiktok ever and no i’m not being dramatic,” “Is your dad actually George Bush?” (haven’t heard that one in awhile) and my favorite, “Who’s gonna tell him there’s three more books?”

    I am in demand. People wonder if I’ll do an audiobook. I’ve been invited to attend the Twilight convention in Forks, Washington, where Bella and Edward met and fell in love.

    I’ve written more than a dozen books. I wrote one about the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping, I wrote a biography of golfing great Billy Casper, a memoir of LaVell Edwards, another one about BYU quarterbacks, histories of both the Summer and Winter Olympic Games. In less than two weeks, more people have viewed the report on “Twilight” that I wrote in 30 minutes the day before the draft than all of them combined.

    Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got “New Moon” to read.

  • How do Utahns view the Afghanistan withdrawal? Look to political affiliation
    Paratroopers assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division, and others, prepare to board a C-17 cargo plane at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Aug. 30, 2021. A majority of Utah voters have an unfavorable view of the United States’ handling of the withdrawal from Afghanistan, according to a new Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll. | Master Sgt. Alexander Burnett, U.S. Army via AP

    A majority of Utah voters have an unfavorable view of the United States’ handling of the withdrawal from Afghanistan, according to a new Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll.

    Sixty-two percent of Utahns disapprove — including 48% who strongly disapprove — of how the Biden administration handled the end of the 20-year war. Another 25% say they approve, while 13% aren’t sure.

    Pollster Dan Jones & Associates surveyed 827 Utah registered voters Sep. 1-5. The poll has a margin of error plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

    The withdrawal has been widely criticized, more recently due to the roughly 100 American citizens who are still stuck in Afghanistan, according to White House chief of staff Ron Klain.

    Klain told CNN’s Dana Bash that the Biden administration is working to get Afghan special immigrant visa applicants — a designation given to those who worked alongside U.S. and NATO forces — out of the country. A report from Politico claims the majority of applicants were left behind during the withdrawal, and that many are being targeted by the Taliban.

    The chaotic evacuation of Kabul shocked the world as videos emerged of thousands of desperate Afghans rushing the tarmac of Hamid Karzai International Airport, some clinging to the outside of a U.S. Air Force C-17 as it took off.

    It’s those scenes that left Utahns with a bad taste in their mouths about the withdrawal, despite the conflict producing 20 years of horrific images and an evacuation that successfully helped over 120,000 people escape the country, said University of Utah political science professor Matthew Burbank.

    Capt. Chris Herbert, U.S. Air Force via AP
    Afghan citizens pack inside a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III, as they are transported from Hamid Karzai International Airport in Afghanistan on Sunday, Aug. 15, 2021.

    “Most of what people saw in terms of coverage was long lines at the airport and the horror stories about what was happening in Afghanistan,” Burbank said. “All of that really kind of rolled into a narrative that says, ‘This was American government’s action. This is the president’s decision and so the president is responsible.’”

    The survey results point to a partisan divide that permeates national politics in general.

    According to the poll, 76% of Republicans say they disapprove — 66% strongly disapprove — of how the Biden administration handled the withdrawal. Opinions are more divided on the Democratic side, with 40% disapproving and 43% approving.

    Burbank said that could be due to pure partisanship, Democrats’ disapproval of the war in general, or a tendency to look at the chaotic withdrawal as a symptom of bad policies stemming from Republicans.

    “Some think Biden had to do this but it was really Trump’s policy, or others might think the problem started with George Bush and Joe Biden’s just finishing it,” he said. “What you’re getting there is not strong approval of what the president did, but more mixed results.”

    Political affiliation appeared to play a role in how Americans viewed the withdrawal early on, with pundits on the right like Tucker Carlson and Ben Shapiro blasting the Biden administration, while left-wing commentators Rachel Maddowand Chris Hayes applauded the president for doing what, in Maddow’s words, his recent predecessors would not.

    If not now, when?

    There is slightly less consensus among Utah voters on when U.S. and allied forces should have left Afghanistan, according to the poll.

    Utahns leaned toward pulling American troops out before 2021, with 35% favoring an earlier withdrawal date. However, 25% said the U.S. should have remained in Afghanistan past Aug. 31, and 21% said American troops should have never set foot in the country. Another 19% said the U.S. withdrew at the right time.

    Jones surveyed 755 Utah registered voters on that question. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.57 percentage points.

    The U.S. mission in Afghanistan was an ever-evolving one, said David Schwendiman, adjunct professor at the U.’s S.J. Quinney College of Law, who spent five years in Afghanistan with the Department of Justice.

    “We went there with a purpose, we spent money for a purpose, the purpose kept changing and kept being redefined from 2001 when we first went to 2021 when we left,” Schwendiman said during a recent roundtable discussion at the U. “When I went, the first time in 2010... our purpose had changed considerably, even from 2006.”

    Two decades of involvement without clarity eventually resulted in a public that was confused and divided on what the point of the war was, and whether the U.S. should or shouldn’t withdraw, Burbank said.

    “That... captures in a way, the essence of American public opinion about Afghanistan,” he said. “There is no overall sense that there’s an absolutely clear strategy we should be following.”

    Partisanship appears to play a role in whether Utahns think the U.S. should have ever been involved in Afghanistan, too.

    The poll found 14% of Republicans think the U.S. should have stayed out of Afghanistan compared to 30% of Democrats. When asked whether U.S. troops should have remained in the country past Aug. 31, the results swing the other way, almost identically.

    “This has been a difficult issue at different times for both Democrats and Republicans. We’ve had this policy pursued by both Democratic and Republican presidents,” Burbank said. “Both parties to some extent are a part of this. They can’t do what they often do, which is to say ‘this is the other party’s fault.’”

    Senior Airman Taylor Crul, U.S. Air Force via AP
    Soldiers, assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division, prepare to board a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III aircraft at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Aug. 30, 2021.

    Parallels to Vietnam

    Because many who served in Vietnam were drafted into the military, experts like Schwendiman say the anti-war backlash from the Afghanistan withdrawal won’t be as severe.

    “Culturally, domestically, I just don’t see the impact the same as Vietnam. There are other factors in our culture now that are impacting that much more seriously and much more severely than the two conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq,” he said.

    But Schwendiman does think that a reduction in the number of Americans enlisted in the military, similar to what happened with the U.S. after the Vietnam conflict, is likely, as the demand simply won’t be there.

    Burbank said the public was divided after the withdrawal from Vietnam because, much like Afghanistan, the conflict was carried out under multiple presidents and political parties.

    If anything, he said, the American public will likely demand a clear exit strategy in any future war.

    “I think the sharpest question for American public opinion is, how do we get out of this. How do we not have a disaster when we leave,” he said. “Hopefully Americans pick up that point that if we’re going to be involved militarily in other countries, we have to think seriously about what the endgame looks like.”

  • Gabby Petito’s stepfather says Brian Laundrie’s silence ‘makes no sense’
    This still from police camera video provided by the Moab Police Department shows Brian Laundrie talking to a police officer after police pulled over the van he was traveling in with his girlfriend, Gabrielle “Gabby” Petito, near the entrance to Arches National Park on Aug. 12, 2021. | Moab Police Department via Associated Press

    Brian Laundrie hasn’t spoken out about his missing girlfriend, Gabby Petito

    Gabby Petito’s stepfather, Jim Schmidt, recently said Petito’s family is “speechless” over boyfriend Brian Laundrie’s silence in the ongoing missing person case.

    What happened to Gabby Petito?

    Petito was reported missing on Sept. 11 after a cross-country road trip with her boyfriend, Laundrie. The two visited multiple states on their trip, including Utah.

    • But Laundrie was the only one who returned home, returning to North Port, Florida, on Sept. 1. Petito’s was last seen on Aug. 30 at Grand Teton National Park.

    Did Brian Laundrie speak about Gabby Petito?

    Since then, Laundrie has refused to speak with the police about the case. Laundrie’s attorney, Steve Bertolino, released a statement from the Laundrie family about the missing Petito, per ABC 7 New York.

    • “This is an extremely difficult time for both the Petito family and the Laundrie family. I understand that a search has been organized for Miss Petito in or near Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming,” the statement read. “On behalf of the Laundrie family, it is our hope that the search for Miss Petito is successful and that Miss Petito is re-united with her family. On the advice of counsel, the Laundrie family is remaining in the background at this juncture and will have no further comment.”

    Gabby Petito’s stepfather speaks on Brian Laundrie

    Now, her stepfather, Schmidt, said the family has been frustrated that Laundrie won’t speak to police, even though he was likely the last person to see Petito.

    • “Frustrating is an understatement,” Schmidt said on “America’s Newsroom,” a Fox News Channel program.
    • “It makes no sense to any one of us why he won’t come out and speak. He’s the one that was traveling with her. They were going across the country together,” he said.

    Does Brian Laundrie have information on Gabby Petito?

    North Port Police Chief Todd Garrison said on CNN’s “Don Lemon Tonight” Thursday night that he thinks Laundrie and his family has some more information about Petito.

    • “I believe Brian has the information,” he said.
    • “I believe people around Brian may also have the information, and we are pleading to those people to come forward. Provide us the information that we need to find Gabby and reunite Gabby with her family because she deserves it and her family deserves it,” he said.
  • What are ‘fintech’ companies? Are they here to help upend the banking world or eat you alive?
    University of Utah President Taylor Randall, left, listens to Utah GOP Sen. Mitt Romney during a discussion at the inaugural Fintech Summit at the Garff Executive Education Building at the U. in Salt Lake City on Friday, Sept. 17, 2021. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

    Mitt Romney helps launch summit focused on the financial technology sector

    Would you share the full record of your personal banking transactions and purchases if it turned out it was the best way to secure a new loan?

    Utah is home to a bevy of emerging financial technology or “fintech” startups that are creating a slew of new options for consumer and business financial services that were once under the exclusive purview of the traditional banking system.

    But the same data access that has helped turbocharge the fintech sector and led to new options for, say, consumers who need to borrow money but have no credit history or small-business owners who don’t qualify under typical bank requirements, has a dark side as well.

    These issues, and more, were explored at the University of Utah’s inaugural Fintech Summit on Friday.

    Utah Sen. Mitt Romney joined Taylor Randall, the U.’s new president and former dean of the U.’s David Eccles School of Business, for a chat to open the hybrid live/streaming event.

    Romney spent years in the world of private equity investment before leaving in 1999 to oversee the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. He noted how different the current finance sector looks and that high-risk ventures, like technology startups, that once struggled to find access to capital were playing under a new set of rules.

    “Money for early-stage, high-risk ventures wasn’t available,” Romney said. “Now, the funds available far exceeds the opportunities to apply those funds in a meaningful way.”

    And, new “fintechs” are finding ways to connect their customers with those funding sources via pathways that traditional institutions just could not, or would not, pursue.

    Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
    University of Utah President Taylor Randall, left, listens to Utah GOP Sen. Mitt Romney during a discussion at the inaugural Fintech Summit at the Garff Executive Education Building at the U. in Salt Lake City on Friday, Sept. 17, 2021.

    A little-known tenet of the decade-old Dodd Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, a massive piece of legislation constructed to help patch vulnerabilities exposed by the Great Recession, gave U.S. consumers the right to access their financial and banking information in a machine-readable format.

    Consumers can now grant personal account access to potential “fintech” lenders, which typically use an algorithmic approach to assess the applicant’s history of deposits, spending, savings, etc. to determine borrowing worthiness. It all happens via a smartphone app and can be accomplished in a matter of minutes.

    Proponents say it’s a boon for those who lack access to traditional banking institutions, are members of marginalized communities or simply lack sufficient credit history to qualify under traditional banking requirements. And, it’s an approach that functions like a meritocracy in helping to elevate inclusion and reduce racial/ethnic and socioeconomic biases that have been exposed in some legacy banking practices.

    But University of Utah law professor Chris Peterson, who participated in a summit panel discussion on fintech regulation issues, said all that data can also be weaponized against the very people who are seeking alternatives to traditional banks because of their circumstances.

    “I really worry about the alternative data being used not just to determine who gets access to credit but how to market to people... when they are most vulnerable,” Peterson said. “Some of those loans I really worry about, that aren’t such a great deal for people, and you have some sort of alternative data that figures out when they’re most vulnerable, when they’re most likely to make a bad decision.”

    Peterson said a bad fintech actor could, via permissioned access to a customer’s account data, determine when that individual is typically in the most dire financial straits, like right before their usual payday, and target them with an online ad or email offer that may come with an exorbitant interest rate or lopsided payback terms.

    Utah Bankers Association President Howard Headlee noted federal legislators and regulators have worked on ways to eradicate bias and inequity in banking practices through efforts like the Equal Opportunity Credit Act and Community Reinvestment Act. Now, the challenge is to apply these regulatory guidelines to fintech’s world of big data, machine learning and artificial intelligence.

    Even as regulators scramble to catch up with the innovations coming out of the financial technology sector, those startups are proliferating and, in many ways, creating broader access to credit and capital for individuals and businesses and, by default, pushing legacy financial institutions to do their own innovating.

    A panel of fintech industry representatives at the summit included Kristy Kim, co-founder and CEO of Tomo Credit.

    Kim said she was inspired to start her own company when she ran into issues as a young professional who, although she had a job as an investment banker in San Francisco, was unable to secure a car loan due to a limited credit history.

    “I had bank accounts and an income. However, I didn’t have a credit score,” Kim said.

    Tomo, Kim said, uses access to applicant account data to make a determination of credit worthiness and doesn’t bother pulling FICO credit scores. And, she says applicants can be approved for credit limits up to $10,000 in a process that typically takes about two minutes.

    Square is a fintech business that launched in 2009 to, according to the company, help small businesses participate in the economy. It offers a range of services that include helping customers launch websites and process online payments, manage in-person checkout systems, market products and services, and manage employee payrolls. It also provides financial services for its participant companies, including issuing business loans via a financial services subsidiary.

    Square Financial Services CEO Lou Goodwin said his company’s average loan size is about $6,000 to $7,000, and the funds are typically used by small-business owners to solve immediate, real-world problems like fixing or updating equipment or addressing short-term financing issues.

    His company assesses credit applicants based on their business transactional data. The process, Goodwin said, is accomplished using machine learning and artificial intelligence tools run by scientists and engineers and is one that is agnostic to the underlying business or person applying for the loan.

    He noted it is also a method that, by structure, leads to more equitable outcomes for its customers.

    “It’s all about economic empowerment,” Goodwin said. “Bringing people into the banking world that have been underserved, overlooked or just not profitable” for the traditional banking sector.

    And to put the influence of emerging fintechs into perspective, the Economic Times recently reported Square was worth $113 billion, more than Europe’s most valuable bank, HSBC, currently valued at around $105 billion.

  • Idaho hospitals are rationing health care because of COVID-19. Is Utah next?
    U.S. Army 1st Lt. Blaine Woodcock, a critical care nurse, provides care to a COVID-positive patient during the COVID-19 response operations at Kootenai Health regional medical center in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, on Sept. 6, 2021. Utah hospitals continue to be overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, but are still hoping to avoid reaching the point where treatment must be rationed even as Idaho has now had to extend “crisis of care standards” throughout the state. | Sgt. Kaden D. Pitt, U.S. Army via Associated Press

    Utah hospitals continue to be overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, but are still hoping to avoid reaching the point where treatment must be rationed even as Idaho has now had to extend “crisis of care standards”throughout the state.

    “We’re going to do just every heroic effort to forestall that,” Greg Bell, Utah Hospital Association president and CEO said, acknowledging, “absolutely we’re worried. People aren’t wearing masks and we’ve got 50% of our state that is not fully vaccinated. That’s where COVID is raging.”

    It’s up to hospital officials to approach the state about invoking crisis care standards, updated last year to respond to the pandemic since the previous version was oriented to dealing with the aftermath of an earthquake. The standards now spell out how to allocate limited ventilators, including when to make that decision using a lottery.

    Bell said he wanted to emphasize hospitals are not yet talking about moving to those standards.

    Last fall, the need for crisis care standards seemed imminent but was able to be avoided, Utah Department of Public Safety spokesman Joe Dougherty said. Today, he said most of the state’s hospitals are a step away, using a “deep contingency” standard of care, postponing surgeries and adding to the staff’s workload.

    There’s no specific thresholds — or timeline — for when the crisis care standards may be revisited, he said.

    “We’ve not gone there yet, where it’s like, hey, we’re predicting in days or weeks. Those words have not been spoken yet, All of the other words apply. Troubling. Worrisome,” Dougherty said.

    Utahns are already running into long waits for critical hospital care, he said, a situation that will be much more grim under rationed care.

    “The reality of crisis standards of care is that people will not get life saving care in the hospital. Health care providers will try to do everything they possibly can but at some point, if that is invoked, people will die and they will continue to die unnecessarily,” Dougherty said.

    Dr. Todd Vento, an infectious diseases physician with Intermountain Healthcare, the region’s largest health care provider, also painted a bleak picture of what happens when hospitals can no longer meet demand and must choose who gets treatment.

    “You now shift your focus on, ‘I’m going to do the greatest good for the greatest number.’ To do that, you need to focus on which patients are most likely to survive and have a severe illness,” Vento said, citing as an example having to prioritize COVID-19 treatment for a 60-year-old over a 90-year-old who also has cancer.

    “The hospital would be forced to then put as much of the resources to do the greatest good for the greatest number and save that person so both individuals wouldn’t necessarily die. I hate to have that sort of specific or graphic about it, but that’s the concept,” he said.

    Vento said there is a direct correlationbetween a state’s rate of COVID-19 vaccinations and how many people end up hospitalized with the virus. Idaho has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country, with just over 40% of residents fully vaccinated against the virus, meaning it’s been two weeks or more since their final dose.

    “You see it in Mississippi, Florida, Texas, etc.,” Vento said, calling it “simple math. Vaccines prevent severe COVID, therefore they prevent ICU hospitalizations. That was sort of one of those things you probably could have predicted. That’s exactly what Idaho is seeing.”

    Kyle Gree, Associated Press
    A registered nurse holds the hand of a COVID-19 patient in the medical intensive care unit at St. Luke’s Boise Medical Center in Boise, Idaho, on Aug. 31, 2021.

    Thursday’s decision to institute crisis care standards in hospitals throughout Idaho comes after they were put in place Sept. 6 in hospitals in the northern part of the state. Alaska’s largest hospital, located in Anchorage, announced Tuesday that it was operating under similar standards.

    Idaho officials warned hospital patients that the care they receive may be different than expected, including hospital beds not being available or set up in conference rooms or other repurposed rooms. Some may be moved to another hospital, even one that’s out of state, and others may even end up not being prioritized for treatment.

    “The situation is dire — we don’t have enough resources to adequately treat the patients in our hospitals, whether you are there for COVID-19 or a heart attack or because of a car accident,” Dave Jeppesen, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare director, said in a statement.

    Bell said Utah hospitals have been able to accommodate most of the requests to take patients from all over the country since the delta variant began fueling the ongoing surge in cases months ago. Now, though, he said Utah facilities are focused on regional needs, mostly in Idaho, Nevada and Wyoming.

    “We haven’t directly felt a lot of pressure from Idaho,” Bell said, noting many of that state’s overflow in COVID-19 patients have been sent to hospitals in the Seattle area. That’s led to some frustration since Washington state has an indoor mask mandate and other measures to slow the spread of the virus — and Idaho does not.

    Vento said Idaho hospitals “needed a lot of help from the community” to reach a point where crisis care standards were necessary.

    “If your community’s not vaccinated, if your community doesn’t distance, if your community doesn’t wear masks, there’s going to be more cases. It’s going to overload the hospital. Some folks don’t like hearing that, but that’s just the facts. That’s exactly what’s happened in Idaho,” the doctor said.

    Utah isn’t there yet, he said, but hospitals are having to be creative, providing some care at home or via telehealth, and transferring patients to other facilities. Last week, Intermountain Healthcare announced surgeries are being postponed, including for conditions that are urgent but not life-threatening.

    “We are in a crisis. We are overburdened as a health care system,” Vento said, with intensive care units operating beyond capacity as COVID-19 cases climb and staffing levels drop. Many health care workers are tired and demoralized as the pandemic drags on.

    Bell said Utah’s hospitals are tapped out. Meanwhile, the former lieutenant governor said Utahns are living in separate worlds when it comes to COVID-19.

    “There’s the world who thinks it’s not relevant to them and they’re not really paying attention,” he said, and not heeding advice to mask up, vaccinated or not. “The other part of the world is those who are paying attention who are nervous about it personally and nervous about it as a community and as a state.”

    Utah Department of Health spokeswoman Charla Haley said the agency “continues to watch the critical situation facing Utah’s hospital systems and encourages everyone to do their part.” She said getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is the best protection against being hospitalized, since most patients with the virus did not get the shots.

    “If more people are not protected against illness, the state may face implementation of crisis standards of care, which is a step of last resort,” she said. “It means we have exhausted our resources to the point that our healthcare systems are unable to provide the treatment and care we expect.”

  • Florida police say they’re ‘keeping an open mind’ with the Gabby Petito case
    This police camera video provided by The Moab Police Department shows Gabrielle “Gabby” Petito talking to a police officer after police pulled over the van she was traveling in with her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, near the entrance to Arches National Park on Aug. 12, 2021. | The Moab Police Department via Associated Press

    North Port Police Chief Todd Garrison offered more details about the Gabby Petito case Thursday night

    North Port Police Chief Todd Garrison said on CNN’s “Don Lemon Tonight” Thursday that the police “are keeping an open mind” when it comes to the case of Gabby Petito.

    Gabby Petito, 22, was reported missing on Sept. 11 after she and her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, went on a cross-country road trip, which included a brief stay in Utah.

    Her boyfriend has remained silent in the case. However, North Port police, which is leading the investigation, said Laundrie is a person of interest in the case, as I wrote for the Deseret News.

    Garrison confirmed on CNN that Petito’s boyfriend, Laundrie, is a person of interest since he is not willing to provide information. Laundrie has invoked his Fifth Amendment right, Garrison said.

    The police do not have a search warrant for Laundrie’s house, either.

    Laundrie and Petito, who were engaged and living in North Port, were shown to have an argument on the road trip in a new video that surfaced this week. The body camera footage showed Laundrie and Petito being pulled over by police in Moab, Utah, and emotionally talking about an argument.

    Garrison said on CNN that he didn’t know if the Utah conflict video footage is connected to her disappearance. He said they were a young couple, and young couples tend to argue. He said it’s unclear what the argument means.

    There have been questions about Petito’s final text message to her mother, which said there was “No service in Yosemite.”

    But her mother isn’t fully convinced it came from Petito. But Garrison said Gabby was communicating with her mother through FaceTime at the time of the final texts.

    Needless to say, there are a lot of layers to the case, and the police are looking into it.

    “We are analyzing everything,” he told CNN. “We are keeping an open mind.”

  • Want evidence Americans’ resolve to follow Constitution is wavering? Mitt Romney says look at Jan. 6
    Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, speaks during a Senate Budget Committee hearing to discuss President Joe Biden’s budget request for fiscal year 2022 on Tuesday, June 8, 2021, on Capitol Hill in Washington. | Shawn Thew, Associated Press

    Utah GOP senator says freedom in the balance as commitment to democracy wanes

    Autocratic governments, led by China, are becoming stronger, while Americans’ resolve to follow the Constitution is wavering, Sen. Mitt Romney said Friday.

    “No more stunning evidence of this was the attempt to prevent the lawful and constitutional transfer of power on Jan. 6th,” the Utah Republican said.

    “It followed from the president of the United States claiming that the election had been stolen from him,” he said. “His purported evidence spun from pillar to post, from counterfeit ballots imported from China, to stuffed ballot boxes, to dead voters, to voting machines manipulated from afar.”

    Romney blamed Donald Trump for the deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol as Congress attempted to certify the 2020 presidential election this past January.

    Romney gave a Constitution Day speech Friday hosted by the Wheatley Institution at Brigham Young University, his alma mater. Sept. 17 is the day in 1787 that delegates to the Constitutional Convention signed the document in Philadelphia.

    In his remarks, Romney criticized Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s recent trip to Hungary where he met with authoritarian leader Viktor Orban. Carlson praised Hungary as a “small country with a lot of lessons for the rest of us.”

    Orban censors the media, ignores the will of the people in elections, and amasses wealth and power for himself and his cronies, Romney said. Hungary is ranked as one of the least free, least democratic countries in the developed world.

    “Hungary, a model for America?” Romney said.

    As he was running for the Senate, a woman asked him if he would vote to remove NBC, CBS and ABC from the air. He said he replied no, and presumed she wanted to make a point about something he had said, but she only wanted to say the networks put out things that were wrong and should be shut down.

    “I have since learned that her perspective is not as singular as I had imagined,” the first-term senator said.

    Constitutional and institutional guardrails are under less obvious but just as real challenges elsewhere, Romney said. Politicians, he said, clamor to eliminate the Electoral College, do away with 60-vote rule in the Senate and want to pack the Supreme Court.

    “With the economic and military power of autocratic China and Russia increasing and American resolve to avoid authoritarianism and pure democracy declining, freedom itself — the right of every person to enjoy life liberty and the pursuit of happiness — is in the balance,” he said.

    Romney said the U.S. must take action to prevent China from building its economic might through predatory means, modernize its military, make business more competitive and invest in emerging technology.

    Joseph Smith, the founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is purported to have said that the Constitution would someday hang by a thread and the elders of the church would save it.

    “They didn’t have tape recorders back then or smartphones, and I’m not sure at all that he actually said that,” Romney said. “But if you will allow me some literary license, I’d suggest that this sentiment may apply to all of us, not just to a few Latter-day Saint elders.”

    Everyone, he said, can help “thread the needle” between authoritarianism and democracy by exercising what the nation’s founders called public virtues.

    Those, according to Romney, include listening respectfully to the opinions of others, expanding our sources of information beyond those with which we agree, defending the entire Constitution rather than just the parts we like, voting for men and women of character, and acknowledging there are a lot of things we don’t know.

    “The founders gave us a republic,” he said. “As Benjamin Franklin said, it’s up to us to keep it. I sure hope we will.”

    The founders worked assiduously to escape the perilous attraction of authoritarianism while at the same time fearing pure democracy, Romney said.

    “The founders’ task and brilliance was crafting a system of government that would thread the needle between the two perils that had doomed every human civilization for 4,000 years, autocracy on one side and pure, runaway democracy on the other,” he said.

    What they came up with, he said, was a “radical departure” from history. The founders did not craft a perfect union. Instead, Romney said, they made a way for Americans to build a “more perfect union.”