ST. GEORGE — The U.S. Senate overwhelmingly approved, and President Donald Trump quickly signed, an emergency COVID-19 coronavirus measure Wednesday, which includes sick leave for all workers and makes testing for the virus free of charge.
Sen. Mike Lee, a Republican from Utah, was one of the few “no” votes in the 90-8 final passage in the Senate. Lee said in a Twitter post that he was concerned about the effect on small businesses.
“The Coronavirus is a real emergency, and the federal government can and should act to mitigate the economic pain from this situation,” Lee said in the post. “Unfortunately, this House response bill is Rube Goldberg machine of unfunded mandates and tax benefits that will only end up hurting workers.”
The new law requires government workers and those who work for businesses with 500 employees or less to provide two weeks of paid sick leave, with a cap of $511 per day to those diagnosed with COVID-19 or seeking preventative care for it. It allows part-time workers to use the number of hours they would normally work in a two-week period.
It also requires companies to pay at least two weeks of paid family leave if a worker cares for a family member with the virus or for children whose school and/or daycare has closed, with a cap of $200 per day.
The law also provides free testing for coronavirus and boosts unemployment insurance and food assistance for children.
Congressmen test positive for virus
A Utah congressman was among the first two U.S. elected officials who announced Wednesday they had tested positive for the virus.
Rep. Ben McAdams, a Democrat who represents the Salt Lake City area, announced on Twitter that he has been diagnosed with COVID-19. He said he developed mild, cold-like symptoms Saturday night that developed into a fever, dry cough and labored breathing and was tested Tuesday.
“I am still working for Utahns and pursuing efforts to get Utahns the resources they need as I continue doing my job from home until I know it is safe to end my self-quarantine,” McAdams said in his statement. “I urge Utahns to take this seriously and follow the health recommendations we’re getting from the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and other health experts so that we can recover from this public health threat.”
McAdams was the second congressman to test positive after Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Florida, announced earlier Wednesday that he had tested positive for the virus.
Governor issues executive orders
Gov. Gary Herbert issued an executive order that allows local city councils and other public bodies to conduct their meetings electronically.
The move could be a way for local councils to continue doing their meetings without having to open the meetings to visitors in person from the public. Such is the case with the Ivins City Council, which will consider on Thursday whether to conduct meetings electronically.
Both state and federal recommendations are limiting the number of people who can attend public gatherings.
“Even though we have implemented many changes in recent days to introduce more social distancing in Utah and slow the spread of novel coronavirus, state government is still open for business and dedicated to serving Utah citizens,” Herbert said in a statement.
While there remained no confirmations of anyone testing positive for COVID-19 as of Wednesday evening in Southern Utah, the number of Utah residents with the virus jumped to 53 with the first cases in Utah County.
The state count includes St. George resident Mark Jorgensen, who acquired the virus on the Diamond Princess cruise ship off the coast of Asia during a recent vacation. There have been no cases of people acquiring the virus anywhere in Southern Utah or Mesquite, Nevada.
National Park Service waives fees
The National Park Service announced Wednesday afternoon that it is suspending the collection of all park entrance fees until further notice.
This includes Zion, Bryce Canyon and Arches national parks.
“I’ve directed the National Park Service to waive entrance fees at parks that remain open. This small step makes it a little easier for the American public to enjoy the outdoors in our incredible national parks,” Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt said in a statement.
Park visitors are still asked to adhere to social distancing. At Zion, that has meant a halt to shuttle service and allowing people to drive in their own vehicles on the scenic drive.
Additional COVID-19 information resources
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- World Health Organization
- Utah Department of Health
- Intermountain Healthcare
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.