ST. GEORGE — Gov. Gary Herbert has ordered coronavirus checkpoints to be set up starting Friday at the Utah-Arizona border port of entry on Interstate 15 and the border crossing on U.S. Highway 89 near Kanab.
“We’d like to have people stay in their regions,” Herbert said at the state’s daily coronavirus press conference Wednesday. “The warmer weather is enticing all of us to go outdoors. … I hope we all have the attitude that ‘I’m part of the solution, not part of the problem.’”
The checkpoints will be purely electronic through geofencing and the state’s emergency alert text system. Officers will not be stopping vehicles at the state borders. Rather, a text will be sent to motorists asking them to fill out a declaration form once they get to their destination or stop safely.
“No cars get stopped,” Nathan Lee, director of technology and innovation for the Utah Department of Transportation, told St. George News. “One of the main goals is protecting people and use technology, using the emergency alert system to notify drivers.”
Anyone 18 years of age or older entering the state at those crossings will be asked to fill out the digital declaration form stating the following: their name, address, phone number and e-mail; if they have been tested for the COVID-19 virus in the last two weeks; if they have shortness of breath, cough or fever; if they are a Utah resident, visitor or out-of-state worker; and where they have traveled in the last two weeks.
The data gathered will be sent to the Utah Department of Health. Herbert said the aim will be to help track and trace COVID-19 infections that may arise from persons who enter the state from national or international travel. The governor expressed concern about those entering the state during the coming Easter holiday weekend.
As for concerns about including information like name, phone number and address in the form, Lee said people need to be as concerned about ensuring the Department of Health has sufficient data on those entering the state.
“If they want to keep everyone safe, it’s the smartest thing they can do,” Lee said.
The Utah Department of Transportation designated nine checkpoints in the state that include the I-15 port of entry and the US-89 near Kanab as well as Salt Lake City International Airport. As of now, there will not be checkpoints on the Utah-Arizona crossing on Old Highway 91 or at St. George Regional Airport.
Carlos Braceras, executive director of UDOT, said there are no plans for punitive measures if someone fails to comply with filling out the declaration at the checkpoint, adding the measure is meant to gather data on those entering the state.
“We are not prepared at this point to chase vehicles down,” Braceras said. “We don’t anticipate this. We do not see this as an effort to penalize people. We will be able to look at how many vehicles enter the state. This is more for data. We hope people will understand why this is important.”
When motorists enter the state, they will reach a checkpoint and receive a text on their cell phones through the state emergency alert system to fill out the form at entry.utah.gov.
People can also go to the web site and fill out the form in advance or fill out the form when they reach their destination or are able to do it safely in their stopped vehicle. There will not be anyone checking to see if someone entered the state and filled the form out.
Phase one will definitely be an honor system,” Lee said.
Braceras said it is also working to acquire equipment to check people’s temperatures at the checkpoints as well.
As for not every point of entry into the state having a checkpoint – including Old Highway 91 – UDOT spokesperson John Gleason said they are starting with the initial nine checkpoints.
“We’re going to look at those nine entry points and see how that’s working,” Gleason said. “There’s a potential that they may expand. These are the most heavily traveled into the state.”
That said, those entering the state at any other checkpoint can still fill out the form, Lee said. They just won’t receive an emergency alert to do so.
Braceras said a checkpoint is not being set up at St. George Regional Airport like measures being taken at Salt Lake International Airport because of its nature as mostly a commuter airport. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t steps being taken there.
“At St. George Airport, we will have measures,” Braceras said.
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