GOP governor candidates clash over protest response

In this Monday, June 1, 2020, photo, former Gov. Jon Huntsman, Jr., speaks during the Utah Gubernatorial Republican Primary Debate in Salt Lake City. Huntsman Jr. has one of the most recognizable names in the state as a former popular governor and son of a billionaire philanthropist. He stepped down as U.S. ambassador to Russia under Donald Trump to return to Utah and make a run and reclaiming his seat. (Ivy Ceballo/Deseret News, via AP, Pool)

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah reported its largest single-day increase in the number of COVID-19 cases on Friday, with many of those coming in connection with an outbreak at a meatpacking plant in northern Utah.

Health officials are investigating the “ongoing outbreak” at the unnamed facility in the Bear River Health District, which covers Cache, Rich and Box Elder counties. One-third of the 439 cases reported Friday came from that area, and many of those are linked to the facility.

“I expect to see additional cases of COVID-19 identified as part of this outbreak, both at the worksite and in the community,” said Utah State Epidemiologist Angela Dunn in a statement. “Many of the workers at this facility match the demographics of who we know are at the highest risk for infection.”

Protecting workers can be especially challenging at plants that typically employ thousands of people who often work side-by-side carving meat, making social distancing all but impossible.

More than 11,000 people have now been infected with the virus in Utah. It causes flu-like symptoms that many people recover from, but can be deadly especially for older people or those with underlying conditions. A total of 120 people have now died in Utah.

In other developments:

  • Utah gubernatorial candidate Jon Huntsman Jr. is self-quarantining after a campaign staffer tested positive for COVID-19, the campaign said Friday.

The former U.S. ambassador to Russia has postponed his in-person public events until he can be tested. His running mate, Provo Mayor Michelle Kaufusi, who has not been in close contact with the staffer for a prolonged period, will continue with her public schedule while practicing social distancing.

“The health of each member of our team and the public is our primary concern,” Huntsman said in a statement.

Senior campaign staff learned the staff member tested positive late Thursday night, after a meet-and-greet event in Logan. It was held outside to allow for social distancing practices, though less than half of attendees wore masks, including those with the campaign, the Herald Journal reported. A photo shows Huntsman shaking hands with an attendee, neither wearing a mask. The staffer who tested positive was feeling ill and did not attend.

Campaign leadership has now closed campaign headquarters to be cleaned and alerted anyone who may have been exposed. The infected staff member has been working from home.

Huntsman is one of four Republicans vying for the party's nomination in the race to replace Republican Gov. Gary Herbert, who is not running again. The primary election is June 30.

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