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Utah County companies linked to COVID-19 hot spots received millions in PPP loans

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Two companies in Utah that were accused of creating COVID-19 hot spots were among the recipients of a $600 billion-plus coronavirus aid program meant to help small businesses nationwide during the pandemic, according to data released by the Treasury Department on Monday. (Photo: KUTV)

SALT LAKE CITY — Two companies in Utah that were accused of creating COVID-19 hot spots were among the recipients of a $600 billion-plus coronavirus aid program meant to help small businesses nationwide during the pandemic, according to data released by the Treasury Department on Monday.

The data shows Built Brands LLC, an American Fork company that makes nutritional supplements, and Wasatch Truss Inc., a Spanish Fork construction firm, both received loans under the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program in the range of $1 million to $2 million. The exact amounts were not available.

More than 50,000 businesses and nonprofit organizations in Utah received loans, totaling at least $3.9 billion, the figures show.

Built Brands confirmed Monday that it received the loan but did not provide any additional information about how it used the federal funds. Wasatch Truss did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Utah County officials published a letter on May 4 citing two businesses that failed to meet COVID-19 guidelines and had together infected at least 68 people. Officials repeatedly refused to name the businesses, but a judge released the names last week after a media lawsuit led by KSL-TV.

The letter said these two businesses “instructed employees to not follow quarantine guidelines after exposure to a confirmed case at work and required employees with a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis to still report to work.” On May 26, Utah County Attorney David Leavitt reversed some of these claims and said the companies involved did not force sick employees to work.

Emails between county health department employees that were released following the judge’s order revealed that officials began investigating COVID-19 cases at both companies as early as mid-April.

An employee who contracted the coronavirus is suing Built Bar, saying the company exposed its employees to the virus and threatened to terminate anyone who raised safety concerns. The company denies the claims, saying it has met and exceeded government guidelines on sanitizing and social distancing.

The Paycheck Protection Program helps smaller businesses stay open and keep people employed amid the coronavirus pandemic. Under the PPP, the government is backing $659 billion in low-interest business loans that will be forgiven if employers use the money on payroll, rent and similar expenses. Companies typically must have fewer than 500 workers to qualify.

About $130 billion was unclaimed as the application deadline closed June 30. With money still available, Congress voted to extend the program just as it was expiring, setting a new date of Aug. 8.

The public may never know the identity of more than 80% of the nearly 5 million beneficiaries to date because the administration has refused to release details on loans under $150,000 — the vast majority of borrowers. That secrecy spurred an open-records lawsuit by a group of news organizations, including The Associated Press.

Still, the release of the data is the most complete look at the program’s recipients so far.