SALT LAKE CITY — Governor Gary Herbert is urging all small businesses in Utah impacted by the novel coronavirus to start applying for federal relief as part of a push to help the state bounce back from the pandemic.
"Help is on the way for employers and employees need at this time," he said at a briefing on COVID-19 on Tuesday.
The governor said money is available as part of the $2 trillion CARES Act passed by Congress. He said all small businesses with less than 500 employees (which makes up 90% of all businesses in Utah) should apply for paycheck protection and disaster loans. The governor said it was a "call to action."
Gov. Herbert said public health remains the top priority, but simultaneously, the state was working to address the economic impact from COVID-19. In two weeks, more people applied for unemployment as a result of closed businesses than in the entirety of 2019.
"As a business community and as an economic task force, we recognize the most important thing every business can do to get through the crisis is to follow the restrictions the governor has put in place to stay safe," said Derek Miller, the head of the Salt Lake Chamber and the governor's economic recovery task force. "We also recognize the most immediate thing each business can do to support the economy is to apply for these loans. This provides the capitol so they can pay their employees, so they can pay their rent."
Gov. Herbert said he was seeing signs that Utah was starting to improve. On Tuesday, the Utah Department of Health reported 1,738 positive cases of COVID-19 in the state out of 34,647 tests administered. There are 148 hospitalizations and fatalities remained at 13.
However, the governor urged people to remain home and only going out when necessary for things like groceries and practicing social distancing when outdoors. He sported a face mask, which people are being encouraged to wear when in public.
Asked about Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson's comments to FOX 13 that she was looking at whether the stay-at-home order she implemented might last until Memorial Day, the governor said he continued to look at the data.
"I think we have some hopeful signs with the data," he said, promising more information in the coming days.
Gov. Herbert said he has seen the latest data models and projections and felt good about how the state was responding, but added that 13 fatalities was "13 too many."
"I feel very good where we’re at with our hospitals and our ICU bed space and what we have acommodations there. And we ought to see if we’re getting to a point where we see a reduction. If we have a reduction in the rate for 7-14 days, that’s maybe a time to loose, not tighten, and help with the economy," he said.
The governor insisted that data would decide any decision and said he would keep his directive in place for now.