ST. GEORGE — President Donald Trump announced guidelines on Thursday to gradually open up businesses and other public entities that have been limited or shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic, but he left it to governors to make the final call in individual states.
The “Opening Up America Again” plan, announced during a White House press conference, is meant as a guideline in the reopening of the economy, according to the president.
“This will allow our governors to have a phased approach. Some states will be able to open sooner than others,” Trump said. “Every state is very different. They’re all beautiful. We love them all, but they’re very different.”
Trump declared a national emergency on March 13. At the time, there were 1,678 cases of the coronavirus nationally and 41 deaths, according to statistics from John Hopkins University.
As of Thursday afternoon, there were 629,264 cases nationally with 26,708 deaths.
Compared to other states, Utah has had a lower case rate than hot spots like New York, Washington and California.
There have been 2,683 cases and 21 deaths in Utah, including 141 additional cases Thursday and one death – in Salt Lake County – according to the Utah Department of Health. There were three additional cases in Southern Utah Thursday according to the Southwest Utah Public Health Department, including two in Washington County and one in Iron County.
There have been a total of 61 cases of the coronavirus in Southern Utah with one death, 40 recovered and two residents currently hospitalized.
As part of the guidelines, the president said states could open in three phases. The guidelines call for states not to enter the first phase until they have satisfied the following criteria:
- Downward trajectory of COVID-like and influenza-like illnesses reported within a 14-day period.
- Downward trajectory of documented cases within a 14-day period.
- Treat all patients without crisis care.
- Robust testing program in place for at-risk healthcare workers, including emerging antibody testing.
New cases in Utah have remained between 5-8% for the last few weeks but have not been necessarily going down. Utah appears to be meeting the criteria as far as available hospital space, and testing has ramped up to the point where anyone with a symptom can be tested, though there is no antibodies test in place.
However, when Trump was asked specifically about states with fewer cases, including Utah, he said, “They will be able to go literally tomorrow because they have met the guidelines. I think 29 states are in that ballgame.”
Speaking at a press conference earlier Thursday before the president’s press event, Utah state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn – who has been spearheading the Utah Department of Health coronavirus response – indicated that Utah will remain on its own timeline as far as when things will open up.
Dunn said it will be slow and gradual and will allow for social distancing and other guidelines to go right back into effect if there is a new spike in cases.
“We are developing Utah-specific guidelines based on metrics so we can open up the economy in a staged approach,” Dunn said. “That’s why we have to be flexible. And if we see a surge, we can quickly launch those social distancing guidelines again.”
Ultimately, the final say as far as Utah is concerned will belong to Gov. Gary Herbert. The governor said on Friday that he intends to stay on a three-phase plan he introduced March 6 that coincided with his initial directive declaring a state of emergency in Utah.
The plan is similar to the phased guidelines introduced by the president Thursday.
The governor has said the three phases are urgent, stabilization and recovery. The current “stay safe, stay home” directives and the closure of school campuses and non-essential workplaces are part of the phase 1 “urgent” phase that was expected to last for eight to 12 weeks from March 16.
That would be followed by a 10- to 14-week stabilization phase that would see a limited opening of some businesses. Those not at high risk of contracting the virus would also no longer need to stay home, but would still maintain social distancing publicly.
The criteria to move to the stabilization phase would be if the transmission rate was no more than one person for every person infected.
That would be followed by a recovery phase that would see most businesses reopen with some emphasis remaining on social distancing. The best-case scenario is for all three phases to be completed and for things to return to normal by the end of January 2021.
Dunn has said the two main metrics that need to show signs of dropping are the growth rate – which has remained at around 5- 7% additional cases per day statewide – and for the number of new cases per day to be reduced to near zero.
The president addressed protests around the country by people demanding that coronavirus restrictions be ended, including a protest Wednesday in St. George, saying he thinks the protesters will follow his guideline for opening up the country slowly and leaving the decision to governors.
“I think they’ll listen to me. They all want to open safely,” Trump said. “They’ve been going through it a long time. It’s a long process for people. People are suffering. They want to get back.”
The president’s guidelines have three phases, which don’t start until a state has seen a two-week reduction in cases. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said before states enter phase 1, which includes the opening of gymnasiums and restaurants, they should meet those initial guidelines first.
“To get into the phasing, you have to get past a hurdle. There are some regions already in that gating. You don’t get to phase one until you get through the gating,” Fauci said. “We will be successful if we carefully do this. Even if you are in phase one, two or three, it is not ‘game over, we’re done.’”
The three phases in the Opening Up America guidelines are as follows:
- Phase one: Return to work in phases with an emphasis on remaining on telework, but large venues like restaurants and gyms could open with strict social distancing guidelines. Bars remain closed.
- Phase two: Gatherings of 50 or less possible are allowed, and non-essential travel can resume. Bars can open with social distancing.
- Phase three: Vulnerable people still social distance but all other functions gradually open up.
“A national shutdown is not a sustainable solution,” Trump said. “We must have a working economy and we want to get it back very very quickly. And that is what’s going to happen.”
COVID-19 information resources
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- World Health Organization
- Utah Department of Health
- Intermountain Healthcare
- To Donate and Volunteer to Help
Southern Utah coronavirus count (as of April 16, 2020)
Positive COVID-19 tests: 61, including 1 death and 40 recoveries.
- Washington County: 41 (2 new)
- Iron County: 16 (1 new)
- Garfield County: 1
- Kane County: 3
- Beaver County: 0
Tests performed (as of April 8): 3,016
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