16 April 2021

  • National park funding? Not for Utah
    A sign alerts visitors that Arches National Park outside of Moab is closed due to the coronavirus pandemic on April 19, 2020. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

    Utah gets short changed on conservation funding

    A new law provides that money from oil and gas development will help pay for maintenance needs at national parks, but even though Utah has plenty of parks and plenty of oil and gas wells — the Beehive State got overlooked.

    In fact, Utah received $7.3 million from the U.S. Department of Interior for projects on land under the purview of the Bureau of Land Management, but nothing for its national parks.

    Coastal states like New York received $50.5 million, Virginia raked in $247.5 million, and even Oregon was rewarded with $12.5 million.

    The funding is the result of the Great American Outdoors Act passed last year that directs royalties from oil and gas development on public lands to deferred maintenance needs on public lands that include national parks.

    Even though Utah ranks fourth in the nation for natural gas production and fifth in oil production from public lands — generating $88.5 million in royalties for the federal government — its national park maintenance needs were left begging.

    “It’s very disappointing,” said Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah. “It is one of the reasons these public lands issues are so divisive.... If the federal government is going to own this land, they need to step up and take care of it.”

    Utah is home to five national parks and has a deferred maintenance backlog of $225 million for its parks and monuments.

    “Ownership brings responsibility,” Curtis said, adding that ignoring on-the-ground problems at national parks and monuments will only cost more in the future.

    His criticism of the Interior Department’s funding allocation was echoed by the Western Energy Alliance, which represents independent oil and gas producers in Utah and elsewhere in the West.

    “It’s astounding that Utah contributes to oil and natural gas wealth for the country and contains some of the nation’s most iconic national parks, but is rewarded so meagerly. Instead of addressing needs at Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks, prosperous coastal states are allowed to cash in,” said Kathleen Sgamma, president of the alliance.

    The organization took the funding slight as an opportunity to lash out at the Biden administration for its pause on any new oil and gas leases on public lands, which has prompted litigation from Utah and a dozen other states.

    “The federal oil and natural gas program is basically the sole source of new conservation and maintenance funding for our public lands. With his ban on federal oil and natural gas leasing, President Biden is risking $2.8 billion annually for our national parks and other iconic lands,” Sgamma said.

    The Interior Department announced in early April that it was distributing $1.6 billion for public lands nationwide as a result of the law passed last year and Utah’s share was solely for maintenance projects on BLM lands, not national parks.

    Curtis said Utah’s allocation, contrasted with states like New York, North Carolina and Virginia, is an affront — especially given that Zion National Park is the fourth-most-visited national park in the country and draws millions of visitors a year.

    “We are all waiting for the Biden administration promise of unity and being a president for all,” he said. “When you see dollars like this going to blue states, and neglecting red states, it makes that sound hollow. If he is going to be president for all, he needs to treat us all the same regardless of our political philosophies.”

  • Not all Utahns are recovering equally from COVID-19
    Smith’s pharmacy technician Wendy Flores administers a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine during a vaccination event at a church in Salt Lake City on Saturday, March 20, 2021. The Utah Pacific Islander Health Coalition, Smith’s Pharmacy and Salt Lake County teamed up to host the event, with the plan of administering up to 1,170 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to people of Pacific Islander descent. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

    The pandemic’s aftereffects deal with both physical and economic health.

    Researchers estimate about 10% of COVID-19 patients become “long haulers” — people experiencing COVID-19 symptoms for weeks or months, with no well-understood reason for why. Moreover, one in three COVID-19 patients suffer from some kind of medical and neuropsychological disorder at least 6 months after. Across the world, we are gradually understanding more about the economic and policy implications for caring for these people and their families.

    To make matters more challenging, racial and ethnic minority communities have experienced COVID-19 infections and illness at much higher rates compared with white communities. Of an estimated 40,000 COVID-19 “long-haulers” in Utah, including many thousands more with some lingering health disorders, a disproportionate number are people of color who already face significant healthcare disparities. This means African American, Latinx, Asian American and Pacific Islander, and Indigenous communities in Utah are likely facing long-term health and lasting economic impacts at disproportional rates, too.

    Even before the pandemic, racial and ethnic minority communities experienced severe and persistent racial disparities in health coverage, chronic health conditions, mental health and mortality. These disparities were never because of individual or group behavior but decades of systemic inequality in economic, housing and health care systems. When the pandemic struck, many members of communities of color were vulnerable to infections because they were deemed essential workers, lived in multi-generational and extended households, or had pre-existing health complications.

    The moral and practical implications of long-term COVID-19 for the overall health and productivity of our society are immense and just now becoming clearer. Many thousands of Utahns may need long-term care and economic support — as many may not necessarily be able to work or earn a living to pay for those treatments or be able to care for their families as they expected before the pandemic.

    As Utah decides how to prioritize its share of Federal relief resources, we must be mindful of the potential long-term healthcare needs for long-haulers, and specifically Utah’s communities of color. We should do everything we can to mitigate and prevent future harm for our most vulnerable communities.

    The state’s Multicultural Advisory Committee, formed as part of Utah’s Coronavirus response, suggested a number of general, short-term and long-term policy actions. In the near-term, the state is making some progress by involving community partners, providing inclusive education about COVID-19, and coordinating with Federal partners to encourage communities of color to get vaccinated. Recent data shows communities of color, as in many states, have not been vaccinated proportionately. Fortunately, a growing body of evidence shows the vaccines may be helpful for some long-haulers.

    However, the much-needed long-term actions to tackle the racial health disparities post-pandemic will require earnest effort and focus by policymakers. We support creating an actionable state racial equity and social justice plan in collaboration with state commissions, divisions, departments, and community stakeholders. We also agree we should increase funding support and lengthen funding cycles for community-based organizations and improve coordination between private- and public-sector organizations for improving health outcomes for communities of color.

    Moving forward, addressing these healthcare disparities in our communities creates an opportunity for Utah to enhance its critical healthcare infrastructure and strengthen connections with Utah’s diverse communities. As policymakers, we are obligated to help Utah – and all Utahns experiencing aftereffects of this awful disease — to recover and grow stronger together.

    Rep. Karen Kwan (D-House District 34) represents Taylorsville and Murray. Rep. Jennifer Dailey-Provost (D-House District 24) represents Salt Lake City.

  • Why are jobs going unfilled if so many are still unemployed in hot Utah economy?
    Maria Cirilo, Sarahe Perres and Monica Baez work in the kitchen at Gourmandise in Salt Lake City on Thursday, April 8, 2021. Despite record numbers of Utahns filing for jobless benefits every week, some Utah employers are having trouble finding workers to fill open positions. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News

    Despite record numbers of Utahns filing for jobless benefits every week, some businesses are having big trouble finding workers to fill open positions.

    Vernon Hanssen, CEO and co-owner of Gourmandise, a Salt Lake City-based gourmet bakery and cafe, said finding candidates to hire in the food and restaurant industry has been especially challenging of late.

    “We have been trying to hire at all locations for months. Every restaurant owner I know is trying to hire,” he said. “We have few to no applicants, and many don’t even show up for in- person, Zoom or open interview slots. We are spending hundreds of dollars a month posting on different job boards. Every other restaurant owner I know is in the same position.”

    That inability to hire more people is putting added pressure on the staff to provide adequate service to customers, which will increase as pandemic-related restrictions are eased in the coming weeks.

    Laura Seitz, Deseret News
    Eloise Schmitt serves lunch to Emma Larsen and her father, Shawn, at Gourmandise in Salt Lake City on Thursday, April 8, 2021. Despite record numbers of Utahns filing for jobless benefits every week, some Utah employers are having trouble finding workers to fill open positions.

    Hanssen blames the extension of state unemployment benefits and the federal weekly bonus combined with the strong economy for being the reason behind “creating the most difficult labor market I have seen in the 15 years we have owned Gourmandise.”

    “Every restaurant is hiring, but no one is applying,” he said. “I want to open a new location and hire about 50 people, but at this rate, I don’t know if there are enough people in this state who want to work to be able to staff a restaurant. I literally can’t open my patio downtown because I don’t have enough servers and few are even applying.”

    With the passing of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, a $300 weekly benefit is still available to those claiming jobless benefits through Sept. 4, said Kevin Burt, director of the Utah Division of Unemployment Insurance. But that temporary amount should not preclude individuals from seeking permanent employment.

    “It is important to remind employers that if individuals refuse suitable work they can and should report that refusal,” Burt said.

    Laura Seitz, Deseret News
    Claire Isom places fruit tarts into a display case at Gourmandise in Salt Lake City on Thursday, April 8, 2021. Despite record numbers of Utahns filing for jobless benefits every week, some Utah employers are having trouble finding workers to fill open positions.

    As for the issue of not having enough people to fill the open jobs, analysts believe it’s a problem that some sectors will face as food service businesses move to operating at full capacity post-pandemic.

    “Going forward, that’s going to be one of the struggles — there’s just not enough people to meet this demand of this very high growing area,” said Zions Bank vice president and senior economist Robert Spendlove. “What’s really interesting in Utah specifically is our labor force participation is back to its pre-pandemic levels. So we have essentially not only returned back to that low level of unemployment, but we’ve pulled people back off the sidelines and into the labor force back to where we were before. The only issue that we still have to resolve is that high level of people claiming unemployment insurance benefits and those specific sectors of the economy that continue to struggle.”

    He noted that for people who have been displaced from their jobs for an extended period — more than six months — due to the pandemic, it becomes really difficult to reconnect to what they were doing before.

    “People lose those connections, they lose the skills, sometimes the business closes down entirely. And so they’ve kind of moved on,” he said. “So some of these former restaurant workers may now be working in construction or they may be working for Amazon. They have kind of moved on to a totally different area, so it will be difficult especially with such a tight labor market for some of those businesses that have suffered the most to get back to where they were before.”

    Another economic analyst said an additional consideration for potential job candidates could be the possible health risks involved in a high-exposure industry such as restaurants.

    “Part of the factoring, too, is maybe, ‘I do need a job but the only job I can go get is one that’s going to put me in COVID contact with people and I’m just not ready for it yet?’” said Utah Department of Workforce Services chief economist Mark Knold.

    Regarding the state’s low jobless rate and historically high unemployment claims, he said there are a few factors at play that are creating a seemingly incongruous economic situation within the Utah job market.

    “(Let’s) use an analogy of a room. You have the room that’s full of chairs and those chairs are jobs, then they take some of the chairs away and the people then have to stand up in the room and look around for another chair,” he said. “Everybody in the room is still counted as being in the labor force, but then you have people who have been in the room for so long or long enough and there’s no chairs, they give up and they leave the room. That’s what’s happening with unemployment (currently).

    “When they leave the room, they’re not counted in the statistics anymore. That’s what is basically going on in this environment,” he added. “Most of the time your unemployment rate comes down for a positive reason, that is people who no longer are employed go get a job. But it is possible during short periods and rough periods of time where the unemployment rate can fall for a negative reason — just people leaving the labor force.”

  • COVID-19 vaccines safe for pregnant women, doctor says
    Utah National Guard soldier Ebbin Wyatt administers a COVID-19 test to Nick Bradley at the Utah State Fairpark in Salt Lake City on Monday, March 8, 2021. | Steve Griffin, Deseret News

    It’s safe for pregnant women, who are already at risk for a more severe case of COVID-19, to be vaccinated against the virus, a top doctor from the region’s largest health care provider said Friday.

    “To this point, there are no concerns that we’re seeing among pregnant women to say, ‘Hey, there’s a higher risk in the vaccine during pregnancy.’ That’s really reassuring,” said Dr. Sean Esplin, Intermountain Healthcare’s medical director of women’s health, during a virtual news conference.

    Although vaccine trials did not seek to include pregnant women, Esplin said more than 50,000 nationwide have been inoculated against the virus and are being followed closely to make sure there is no increased risk of complications or other problems.

    There haven’t been problems with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in pregnant women, he said. Earlier this week, Utah and the rest of the country paused the use of the single-dose vaccinewas after six women developed rare but severe blot clots.

    Esplin said women are more likely to develop blood clots, but pointed out it is not yet clear if they resulted from the vaccine. If the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration recommend resuming the vaccine’s use, the doctor said he would be comfortable with patients getting it again.

    Women who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the past three weeks should watch for signs of blood clots — unusual headaches, shortness of breath, chest pains, or swelling, redness or tenderness in one leg — and contact their health care provider if they experience those symptoms, he said.

    The sooner pregnant women get vaccinated against COVID-19, the more antibodies they are able to pass on to their babies, he said. His vaccination advice is something Esplin said he shared with his own daughter when she asked whether she should get a shot in her first trimester of pregnancy.

    “Now, I’m pausing. Now I’m the dad. I’m a new grandpa, right? I’m like, what do I do? I said, ‘Go get it. Go get it. You’re going to be fine.’ That’s my own recommendation to my own family, is that the safest thing to do is to get the vaccine,” the doctor said.

    Esplin said pregnant women typically are hit harder by viral infections like the flu, and the coronavirus is no different.

    “If you’re pregnant and you get the infection, you have a higher chance of needing help breathing because your lungs can be more affected. You might have a higher chance of being admitted to the hospital or the ICU, and even a higher chance of having a death because of this,” he said.

    That makes it especially important for pregnant women to take steps to avoid COVID-19, Esplin said, particularly if they have other medical conditions that put them at a higher risk such as diabetes, high blood pressure or being overweight.

    “Those things, in conjunction with being pregnant and having COVID really are a recipe for having a high risk of a bad outcome,” he said.

    But given the ways to avoid the virus, including wearing masks, social distancing and practicing good hygiene in addition to vaccinations, have made him “more comfortable that the risk to the baby is maybe not as high as we were worried about initially. I think we have learned there are good ways to prevent this.”
    Dr. Sean Esplin, medical director of women’s health for Intermountain Healthcare, addresses questions via Zoom about COVID-19 vaccines and pregnant women as part of Intermountain’s weekly update on Friday, April 16, 2021.

    Friday, the Utah Department of Health reported 463 new COVID-19 cases and two additional deaths from the virus. The total number of cases in the state since the start of the pandemic more than a year ago has now reached 392,096.

    Utah has administered a total of 1,852,460 vaccine doses, a daily increase of 43,636.

    The rolling seven-day average for positive tests is 393 per day, and 7,879 Utahns have taken 17,826 tests for the coronavirus since Thursday. That put the rolling seven-day average for percent positivity of tests at 3.8% when all results are included, and at 7.6% when multiple results by an individuals are excluded.

    Currently, 159 people are hospitalized with the virus in Utah, and total hospitalizations are at 15,879.

    Utah’s death toll from COVID-19 is at 2,164 lives lost, including two reported Friday: a Salt Lake County woman between the ages of 65 and 84 who was not hospitalized at the time of her death, and a Weber County man, 45-64, who was hospitalized when he died.

    This story will be updated.

  • Utah coronavirus updates: The latest COVID-19 news and case counts

    Utah has seen 392,096 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 2,164 total deaths as of Friday, according to the Utah Department of Health. That’s an increase of 463 cases from Thursday. Two additional deaths were reported.

    Here are the latest numbers.

    • Total number of COVID-19 cases: 392,096
    • Total reported people tested: 2,478,707
    • Vaccines administered:1,852,460
    • Total COVID-19 hospitalizations:15,879
    • Current COVID-19 hospitalizations: 159
    • Total COVID-19 deaths: 2,164
    • Single-day high for reported cases: 4,672 (Dec. 31)
    • Single-day high for reported deaths: 30 (Dec. 17 and Jan. 21)



    Globally, the novel coronavirus pandemic has now infected 138,688,383 and killed 2,978,935people as of Friday, according to the World Health Organization.

    Read more of our coronavirus coverage.

  • 30 gigabytes of child porn found in West Jordan home, charges say
    Adobe Stock image

    A West Jordan man was charged Friday with having thousands of pictures and videos of child pornography.

    Ryan Krehl Jones, 37, is charged in 3rd District Court with 20 counts of sexual exploitation of a minor, a second-degree felony.

    The state’s Internet Crimes Against Children task force began investigating the case in February. A search warrant was served on Jones’ home and he was arrested on Wednesday.

    He told investigators that he used the computer in his basement to view and share child pornography, according to charging documents.

    “Jones explained he deleted the child pornography and the programs used to download it to ‘try and get away, but he keeps going back,’” the charges state. “Jones admitted he collected approximately 30 gigabytes of child pornography and stored it on the USB drive.”

    The task force reviewed the USB drive and found “hundreds of files containing child pornography,” according to the charges, consisting of thousands of images.

  • More than a dozen guns seized from Tooele County house
    A Tooele police vehicle is pictured in Tooele on Monday, Dec. 28, 2020. Two people have been arrested in Tooele County as part of an ongoing investigation that police say started when more than two dozen guns were stolen from the home of a war veteran. | Steve Griffin, Deseret News

    Two people were arrested in Tooele County this week as part of an ongoing investigation that police say started when more than two dozen guns were stolen from the home of a war veteran.

    In February, approximately 30 guns were stolen from the Tooele home of a Vietnam veteran, said Tooele Police Lt. Jeremy Hansen. Police have been collecting evidence and information since the theft and have arrested at least one other person.

    Hansen said several people broke into the man’s house when he wasn’t there, cut open his gun safe, took both military-style weapons and hunting rifles and then “scattered” the weapons among several people around Utah.

    On Wednesday, as part of the ongoing investigation, the Tooele County Major Crimes Task Force — comprised of several local and state agencies — pulled over a vehicle with five people inside. A police K-9 then indicated there may be drugs inside the car, prompting a search by officers.

    A man who police say had heroin and methamphetamine in his pockets, was arrested for investigation of possession of a dangerous weapon by a restricted person and drug possession. A gun was also found in the man’s backpack, a police affidavit states.

    Police learned the gun was listed as stolen out of Salt Lake City. The man told detectives he had just bought it from Jason Staats Chytraus, 39, at his home in Rush Valley, Tooele County, the affidavit states.

    “The male said Chytraus still has multiple firearms from (a prior theft) in the basement and bedroom of his residence,” police wrote in the affidavit.

    Investigators researched Chytraus’ background and found “criminal history in three states including Utah, New Jersey and New York,” the affidavit states.

    The task force served a search warrant at Chytraus’ house and he was arrested and booked into the Tooele County Jail for investigation of possession of a dangerous weapon by a restricted person and theft of a firearm. During the search of his home, police say 14 firearms were seized, including one listed as stolen out of Cottonwood Heights.

    A couple of the weapons stolen from the veteran’s safe were among those recovered, Hansen said.

    The search continued Friday for the remaining weapons that were stolen as well as for additional suspects believed to have been involved with the burglary.

    Tooele County Major Crimes Task Force
    More than a dozen weapons were seized the week of Monday, April 12, 2021, in Tooele County as part of an ongoing investigation into 30 firearms stolen from the safe of a Vietnam War veteran.

  • Northern Utah man charged with shooting, killing friend over money dispute
    Charges were filed Friday in this 2nd District Court in Ogden accusing Daniel Johnson, 48, of Roy, of murdering his friend, Steve Bailey, 38, also of Roy. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

    Criminal charges were filed Friday against a Roy man accused of fatally shooting his friend because of a dispute over money and then abandoning his body in a parking lot where it went unnoticed for days.

    Daniel Johnson, 48, is charged in 2nd District Court with murder, a first-degree felony; obstructing justice, a second-degree felony; plus abuse or desecration of a body and possession of a firearm by a restricted person, both third-degree felonies.

    Johnson is accused of shooting Steve Bailey, 38, of Roy, on Saturday while both were at Johnson’s house.

    “Investigation showed that (Johnson) and victim were friends. They got into an argument over money and (Johnson) shot the victim in the head and then removed and concealed the victim’s body and attempted to destroy or conceal other evidence of the crime,” according to a motion for Johnson to be held in the Weber County Jail without bail.

    Johnson put his friend’s body in Bailey’s car, drove it to a parking lot in the 3200 block of Orchard Avenue, “and concealed it in an obscure place,” a police affidavit states. “Johnson never contacted the police nor did he seek medical attention for the victim. Johnson is a drug user who was in possession of a firearm.”

    Bailey’s body wasn’t discovered until Tuesday when a passerby found him in the car.

    Police noted that not only did Johnson fail to report the death of his friend, but he also gave investigators false information, according to charging documents.

    Prosecutors have requested Johnson be held without bail.