ST. GEORGE — The state Legislature and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert announced Friday the formation of a joint effort aimed at reopening parts of the state economy by early May as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
Herbert also announced the immediate opening of all state parks to all visitors, including Snow Canyon above Ivins and Sand Hollow in Hurricane. Previously, Herbert had announced state parks would only be open temporarily to those who resided in the same county as the park.
During a press conference, Herbert and leaders of the Legislature laid out what is being called the “2.0” version of the governor’s three-phase “Utah Leads Together” plan. It is a more detailed version of the governor’s previous plan he announced earlier and not necessarily a response to President Donald Trump’s “Opening Up America Again” national recommendations made on Thursday for reopening the economy.
The 2.0 plan is more detailed, including laying out a color-code system for when the state, a county or a city is recommended to move into a different phase of reopening the economy. The color codes are red, for the high-risk state the entire state is in now; orange for moderate risk, where some closures are relaxed for non-high-risk individuals; yellow for low-risk to everyone but high-risk individuals; and green with normal risk to everyone but high-risk individuals. The complete plan can be found at this link.
The color-coding system allows for some counties to be one color, while other areas can be at a different phase with fewer recommended restrictions.
This makes it possible that Southern Utah – which has seen fewer cases than much of the state – might see a move to an orange phase quicker than areas like Salt Lake County, which has had 52% of the 2,805 coronavirus cases to date in the state.
According to the Southwest Utah Public Health Department, there were two more cases of the virus reported Friday in Southern Utah – one each in Washington and Iron counties – with two hospitalized.
Should the newly formed Public Health and Economic Emergency Commission recommend it and the governor approve it, moving into an orange phase would mean restaurants could allow dine-in services as long as they take substantial distancing and cleanliness precautions.
“If we have sit-down dining, that means having protocols to ensure social distancing that includes screening of workers and customers and limiting access to how many you can have inside,” Herbert said. “Those will be things we will be working on.”
Also in the orange phase, fitness centers and gyms are recommended to be closed but can open if they follow strict social distancing and cleaning guidelines.
Summit Athletic Club, the St. George-based fitness center, announced Friday that it will be reopening its River Road location starting Monday to current members only. Summit said in the announcement that it will be monitoring social distancing in the club and will still keep its locker room, sauna, showers, indoor pool and jacuzzi closed. It will also make sanitizing wipes available.
Other businesses that would have soft openings recommended would be hotels and tourism, which would have to keep buffets closed and have a strict cleaning arrangement in shared spaces and have all staff wear face coverings. Some personal services would also be opened up with strict distancing and cleanliness guidelines.
Herbert did not address how this affects his “Stay Safe, Stay Home” directives. However, high-risk individuals – such as those over 65, those living at senior facilities and those at high risk of all ages – will be recommended to continue to stay home, regardless.
Utah Speaker of the House Brad Wilson cautioned about Utahns having a false sense that it is time to go back to business as usual.
“The orange phase does not mean we’re completely out of the woods,” he said.
The moves are in response to SB 3004, which passed the Utah House Friday morning 59-15 with one absent after passing the State Senate Thursday in a 23-6 vote. All of Southern Utah’s legislators voted yes on the bill.
“People who have been healthy are seeing how the virus has impacted them in a personal way. We have to do more to help these victims and restart our economic engine,” said Wilson, who added that he is not looking for a sudden reopening of everything, but a gradual one. “This is not going to be like flipping a switch, but turning the dimmer on. We are ready to begin these steps.”
The bill set up the Public Health and Economic Emergency Commission, which the bill stated has the goal to “provide a plan by a certain date to the governor that moves the state to a less urgent response level.”
The 10-member committee is on a fast track, where it will have to give a recommendation to Herbert by Wednesday. The governor then has until a little over a week later – April 30 – to respond to that recommendation.
Herbert said during a press conference Friday that he has the option to still veto the bill altogether and make his own decision.
“If I don’t like it, I will veto,” he said. “But at this juncture, we’re working well together.”
Utah Senate President Stuart Adams said the Legislature created the new committee as a way to share power with the governor, not overrule him.
“I see that committee with a throttle. If we’re going too fast, we can throttle back. We don’t want to spike again but we want to do that in a way that helps business move forward,” Adams said. “We gave the governor the ability to set those policies on a statewide basis but gave him power to choose. There may be hotspots the governor can choose regulations, but we have given the governor the throttle on that.”
The commission will consist of a designee from the Utah Department of Health, four appointees of the governor and two members each appointed from the State Senate and the House.
Of note, Friday’s press conference did not feature any health officials, such as state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn.
Herbert addressed that, saying the goal of the task force is to balance the health and economic needs of the state.
“The whole attempt here is to build consensus. We don’t want to go too fast, but we don’t want to go too slow, either. This is about a balance. This is not just about health care, but about people making a living again,” Herbert said. “This is not about fear mongering. This is about good data, good science and good medicine of what we can do and when we can do it.”
Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, who has been working as a liaison for the governor with the Legislature, applauded the effort to reopen the economy, adding the measures taken were not meant to completely stop the virus as much as buy more time to deal with it better. He added that he thinks it is time to weigh the economic cost with the health cost.
“There is loss of life that comes with poverty. The reason we did this was to buy us time to get testing ramped up — get hospitals ready,” Cox said. “And we’ve done that better than any other state, so we’re ready to get into the next phase.”
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 17, 2020)
Positive COVID-19 tests: 63, including 1 death and 46 recoveries.
- Washington County: 42 (1 new)
- Iron County: 17 (1 new)
- Garfield County: 1
- Kane County: 3
- Beaver County: 0
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