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State of Utah issues rare cell phone emergency alert about COVID-19

Posted at 2:24 PM, Oct 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-30 19:01:22-04

SALT LAKE CITY — People in Utah received a rare emergency alert on their cellphones about COVID-19 on Friday afternoon.

The alert system, sometimes used in Amber Alert situations, displays a message and plays an emergency alert tone. Friday's message, which went out around 2 p.m., said the following:

Emergency Alert

State of Utah: COVID-19 is spreading rapidly. Record cases. Almost every county is a high transmission area. Hospitals are nearly overwhelmed. By public health order, masks are required in high transmission areas. Social gatherings are limited to 10 or fewer. Visit to see your county's information. Be careful!

Joe Dougherty, a spokesman for Utah's Department of Public Safety, which oversees the state's COVID-19 Unified Command, told FOX 13's Ben Winslow the decision to send the alert was made after Friday's record-breaking 2,292 new cases of novel coronavirus.

"For a long time, we've been talking about how to get a message to as many people as humanly possible. We know there are a lot of people who still don't completely understand the situation we're in with COVID-19 in the state of Utah," he said. "This is one tool that allows us to hit a person in every pocket and every purse where they've got their cell phone."

It is estimated there are as many as three million cell phones in Utah. The COVID-19 Unified Command estimates the alert reached as many as 50-70% of them. The state's coronavirus website, which was linked in the message, crashed temporarily after the message, likely due to a surge in traffic. Additional servers were used to handle the traffic.

The system was used to alert truckers and travelers entering Utah at the borders. It was pulled back because it reached too many people. In this instance, the goal was to reach everyone.

"This is really an alert to everybody to let them know our situation is unsustainable. Our hospitals are getting full and there are very simple things we need everyone to do by public health order right now," Dougherty said.