President extends national social distancing guidelines to April 30; Utah icon Bob Garff succumbs to virus

President Donald Trump signs the first veto of his presidency in the Oval Office of the White House, March 15, 2019, in Washington. The veto overrules Congress to protect his emergency declaration for border wall funding. | Associated Press photo by Evan Vucci, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — President Donald Trump has extended the national social distancing guidelines for the coronavirus pandemic to April 30.

President Donald Trump speaks at the Interior Department in Washington. Washington, D.C., April 26, 2017 | Photo by Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press, St. George News

The guidelines, initially announced on March 16, includes social distancing of six feet between people in public, staying at home if one is sick and staying at home if one is over 60 or has an underlying medical condition that may make them more susceptible for the virus.

“The better you do, the faster this whole nightmare will end,” the president said during a news conference in the Rose Garden of the White House.

Also Sunday, legislators announced the passing of former Utah Speaker of the House Bob Garff to COVID-19. Garff was also the chairman of the Ken Garff Automotive Group, parent company of Ken Garff St. George Ford.

The president had previously said that he had hoped to lift some social distancing measures by Easter on April 12.

A map by the Utah Department of Health showing the density of those who tested positive for the COVID-19 virus as of March 29, 2020. | Map courtesy Utah Department of Health, St. George News

“It was just an aspiration. We will still be hitting potentially on Easter a peak number of deaths, regrettably, before it starts going down,” President Trump said.

According to John Hopkins University, as of Sunday afternoon, there have been 139,675 people nationwide infected with the virus – the most of any nation – with 2,436 deaths.

There has not been an update Sunday from the Southwest Utah Public Health Department on the current figures for Southern Utah. As of Saturday, there have been 14 cases of the virus in Southern Utah with one death.

The latest numbers released Sunday by the Utah Department of Health said there are 719 people who have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus in the state, a 117-person increase from Saturday, with two deaths.

The death total does not include the death of Garff, whose death was announced by current Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson on Twitter.

Garff was speaker of the house from 1985 to 1987 and was the chairmain of the auto group his father Ken founded. He was also previously the chairman of the Intermountain Healthcare Foundation.

In this Nov. 6, 2018, file photo, Robert Garff, left, greets U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, during the UTGOP election night party in Salt Lake City. | Photo by Ravell Call/The Deseret News via Associated Press, St. George News

Graff was chairman of the organizing committee for the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics with President and CEO – and current U.S. Senator – Mitt Romney, who lamented Graff’s passing.

“Bob’s contributions to our state, to our economy, and to our church will be heralded by many. But for me, it was his sound and principled leadership as the Chairman of the Olympic Winter Games of 2002 that is most compelling,” Romney said in a statement.

Ken Garff Automotive released a statement saying that Robert and his wife, Katharine, tested positive for the virus after driving back from Palm Springs, California.

“Earlier this week, Robert felt more ill and was admitted to the hospital,” the statement said. Katherine continues to recover at home, they said.

On Friday, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert issued a directive for people in the state to stay at home as much as possible. That directive was effective through April 13, when Herbert said it will be reviewed to see if it will need to be extended further.

During the press conference, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, said if  social distancing and other measures had not been taken, the nation would right now be looking at millions of COVID-19 cases.

“We feel that the mitigation we’re doing right now is having an effect. This was a wise and prudent decision,” Fauci said, adding that if recent estimates continue at the current pace, the nation is still looking at more than 100,000 deaths. “What we’re trying to do is not let that happen.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

COVID-19 information resources

Southern Utah coronavirus count (as of Saturday)

Positive COVID-19 tests: 14, including 1 death.

  • Washington County: 8
  • Iron County: 4
  • Garfield County: 1
  • Visitors: 1

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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