Report from the Senate

Ralph Okerlund




I hope you are all keeping safe, healthy and positive. In an effort to keep you informed and up-to-date on the latest information, I will send out a weekly coronavirus update to share the latest information with you. 

We are still actively working on addressing issues with a COVID-19 taskforce meeting regularly. You can find all of the latest information on This website includes information on how to keep you and your loved ones safe, information on small business loans for business owners impacted by the virus and information on unemployment benefits for Utahns who find themselves temporarily out of work. 

We are still early in this virus. We will need to be patient and vigilant over these next several weeks with our social distancing.

There is strong evidence supporting the practice of social distancing. In 1918, a new respiratory virus-the Spanish flu  spread quickly around the United States killing millions. During this time, Philadelphia decided to hold a parade to boost morale and the economy. Days later many were sick and weeks later thousands died. Their approach to the Spanish flu, continuing with life as usual, resulted in a big spike in their curve of citizens infected and killed by the illness. St. Louis, on the other hand, established significant social distancing requirements by shutting down schools, churches and other public gathering areas after the Spanish flu was detected in their city. This action softened their curve of citizens infected by the illness; they experienced half the rate of infection compared to Philadelphia. St. Louis was not the only city to impose restrictions, but many of the cities that imposed restrictions lifted them too soon and saw the spike increase of infected citizens. Those cities then had to reimpose restrictions. Practicing social distancing can help flatten our curve now in light of COVID-19. Be patient and stick with it, social distancing will help save lives.

While this illness is serious, I know if we all do our part at social distancing, washing our hands and following CDC guidelines we can help flatten the curve and minimize the impact on our country.

I have received a number of questions from constituents this week and I wanted to share the most frequently asked questions of the week with the answers I have shared.

FAQs —

Is anything being done to protect our business?

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development worked together to secure low-interest loans for Utah’s businesses sustaining negative economic impacts from COVID-19. The SBA authorized Utah March 17, to use Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) funds to support small businesses. These low-interest loans are available to businesses in all Utah counties. SBA low-interest federal disaster loans can provide up to $2 million of working capital to help Utah business owners in overcoming temporary losses of revenue they are experiencing as a result of the coronavirus.

The assistance may be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable and other bills that can’t be paid due to economic impacts. These loans are available to small businesses and private, non-profit organizations to help alleviate economic injury caused by the coronavirus.

We are also waiting to see what action the federal government will take to help businesses.

What are you doing to help those without work because of COVID-19?

If you or someone you know has lost income because of the COVID-19 virus, you can reach out to the Department of Workforce Services (DWS) to determine what resources are available, such as unemployment benefits. Basic eligibility requirements for unemployment benefits may include: 

• Having been employed long enough to meet monetary rules—generally at least five quarters.

• Able and available for suitable employment.

• Laid off through no fault of your own.

• Quarantined, but not showing symptoms, and will return to the same job. 

• Not showing any symptoms of COVID-19, but are unable to go to work because your place of employment has been quarantined.

• An employer has temporarily shut down operations as a result of COVID-19 with the expectation of returning to work after the quarantine is over.

• Loss of employment because an employer goes out of business as a result of COVID-19, which is considered a lay-off or reduction in force.

 Additionally, website has more than 30,000 job openings.

DWS offices are open during regular business hours, though you are strongly encouraged to call or use online tools as much as possible while social distancing is being encouraged.

If you need to take time off work because of contracting COVID-19, are not receiving paid leave and meet other basic requirements, you may qualify for unemployment. 

Why are we not performing more testing for COVID-19?

Because COVID-19 is a new, unique virus, testing and cures were not available originally. Major progress in testing and treatment has been made and now states are authorized to purchase tests directly to help increase test kits available for COVID-19. 

The challenge we continue to face is getting the reagents for processing the tests. 

Since this is a worldwide epidemic, we need companies who produce these reagents to scale up to meet worldwide demand.  

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