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Utah's Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox Talks About Efforts To Deal With Coronavirus

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Here in the United States, we're watching a growing number of states report their first cases of the coronavirus - Minnesota, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Nebraska and more, including Utah. Utah Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox heads his state's coronavirus task force, and he joins me now.

Welcome to the program.

SPENCER COX: Thank you, Lulu. It's great to be with you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you know how this case got to Utah and if you've been able to track who that patient has been in contact with?

COX: Yes, we do. Many people by now are familiar with the Princess cruise ship that is docked off the coast of California, holding many infected passengers. This person was part of the previous group on that same cruise ship, and she had been sick for several days. And so we do know where it came from.

The latter question - how many people has that person been in contact with? - we are investigating that currently. We do know that the person did go to their health care provider on two occasions. And so we are working closely with the health care provider to see if anyone there was infected and, of course, doing the investigatory work, contacting all people who've had contact with that individual over the past week.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: One of the problems nationwide has been the testing started so slowly in this country. And it's hard to contain a virus if you can't track it quickly.

COX: That is correct. The good news is that the testing standards have been loosened recently, and more tests have been made available. So we do have the capacity now to begin moderate testing here in the state from people who have had direct contact or traveled to areas that we know there is rapid spread of the virus and are exhibiting symptoms.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Moderate testing - I mean, how many test kits are available to you, and how are you determining who gets tested?

COX: So we have 400 test kits that were made available to us this week. We expect to have more next week and expanding testing into the private sector as well. We, like other states, are following the guidelines that have been given.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Four hundred - that doesn't seem like very much out of 3 million people in Utah.

COX: Yeah. No. Trust me. We want more. We've asked for more, and we have been told we will be getting more this week.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Your task force has been using social media to inform the people of Utah about the coronavirus and the illness it causes called COVID-19. I have to ask about one part of that campaign - a tweet urging people not to go to work if they're sick and calling out President Trump for spreading disinformation when he said, quote, "We have thousands or hundreds of thousands of people that get better just by sitting around and even going to work. Some of them go to work, but they get better." You ordered the tweet deleted. Why?

COX: Well, it's really important in our response that we take politics out of this completely. And that was a tweet that a staffer put out, but it - completely accurate. And we want to be completely accurate on this. We - people need to stay home, and I think the president also said that after those comments went viral. My point was just this. Let's not get into the politics of this. If we want to be the trusted source for all of this, let's give good information and accurate information. And the best information is that if you are exhibiting any symptoms of this illness that you do need to stay home.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But how challenging is it at a time when people are so concerned and you are obviously trying to get accurate information out to the people of Utah? I mean, the president has called the WHO's current estimate of the death rate from COVID-19 false and that he had a hunch it was way lower. Just the other day, he said anyone who wants to be tested can be tested, which we know is not true. I mean, how are you dealing with lines like those, which may lead someone in Utah to think the illness is less severe than it may be?

COX: Sure. What we're doing is we are putting out daily accurate information. We want everyone to know what is happening. There's a lot of information out there. What we're attempting to do is to be the trusted source of information for the people of the state of Utah so they can tune everything else out, go to our social media, our website and get the most accurate and up-to-date information.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And just in the interest of getting people accurate information, what is your website so that people can check it out?

COX: Of course - coronavirus.utah.gov. You can also follow us on social media @utahcoronavirus.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox of Utah. Thank you very much.

COX: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.