CACHE COUNTY – In addition to routine business, members of the Cache County Council used a Mar. 31 meeting via video conferencing technology to discuss the county’s ongoing efforts to cope with the impact of the Coronavirus outbreak.
While linked from their homes and offices, County Executive Craig W. Buttars told council members that he has been working closely with officials of the Cache Chamber of Commerce and the Utah League of Cities & Towns on efforts to mitigate the economic impact of the business slowdown caused by statewide social distancing and stay-at-home guidelines.
The most positive development, according to Buttars, is the Utah Leads Together Small Business Bridge Loan program announced by Governor Herbert’s Office of Economic Development.
Buttars said the purpose of the bridge loan program is to provide immediate financial assistance to Utah small businesses on an interim basis until long-term assistance becomes available from the recently enacted $2 trillion federal stimulus package.
The bridge program will offer loans up to $20,000 with no interest for up to 60 months, according to a state press release. The loans are intended to support small businesses only, which are defined as those employing no more than 15 workers. The loan amounts cannot exceed three months of the applicant’s operating expenses. Loan payments are deferred for up to one year.
Applications for the bridge loan program can be completed online on the state’s website at www.coronavirus.utah.gov. Applications will be reviewed by state officials on a weekly basis.
The Utah bridge loan program is currently funded with approximately $8 million in re-purposed state economic development funds, plus $500,000 from the Utah Department of Workforce Services. Gov. Gary Herbert has said that lawmakers may also secure additional funding for the program. State officials have promised that a minimum of 25 percent of those funds will be earmarked for businesses in rural areas.
Council member Gina H. Worthen recommended that the county distribute information about the bridge loan program as widely as possible, noting that more than 700 applications had already been received by the state during the program’s first five hours on Mar. 31.
In a proactive effort to be prepared if the valley’s rate of Coronavirus infection increases, Buttars said that county officials have begun discussions with property owners about the possibility of using largely empty local hotels as sites to quarantine individuals who tested positive away from their families. Meals for such quarantined individuals could be provided by the local Meals on Wheels program, Buttars added.
Looking toward the possibility of eventual economic recovery from the Coronavirus, Buttars said that discussions are also underway with local restaurant owners about ways for their on-site businesses to resume while still observing social distance guidelines. The county executive said that the possibilities being considered include increasing the distance between tables in the restaurants and testing the body temperatures of patrons before they are admitted.
Buttars also reported that Cache County has not yet officially issued a local emergency decree. Under Federal Emergency Management Agency guidelines, an emergency declaration would be required for the county to request federal reimbursement for expenses including establishing an emergency operations center, setting up alternate facilities for patient care and purchasing additional stockpiles of protective clothing and equipment.
Buttars explained that none of those emergency measures have been necessary yet.