Governor announces tentative move to reduced coronavirus alert level as early as May 1

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert wears his face mask during the daily COVID-19 media briefing at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City, Utah on Thursday, April 9, 2020. | Photo by Rick Bowmer, Associated Press, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Utah will be moving to a less stringent directive toward businesses for coronavirus prevention as early as May 1, including a limited reopening of sit-down service in restaurants, Gov. Gary Herbert announced Friday.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, left, and Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, listens during a press conference with legislative, community, and business leaders Friday, April 17, 2020, at the Utah State Capitol, in Salt Lake City, Utah. | Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News/Pool, via Associated Press, St. George News

Herbert said during the daily coronavirus press conference that much of the state will move from the red, or urgent, phase that has seen orders closing sit-down restaurant service and recommended other closures.

“Because there are many moving pieces, I want the people of Utah that I plan to change by as early as May 1. We want people to be ready,” Herbert said. “This does not mean going back to business as usual. But we may see some opportunities for businesses to open up.” 

David Heaton, spokesperson for the Southwest Utah Public Health Department, told St. George News that Southern Utah will be ready to move into the less stringent phase if the governor gives the go-ahead on May 1.

“We expect to move forward with those plans based on a declining trend in new COVID-19 hospitalizations, low hospital ICU and bed utilization, and increased testing capacity,” Heaton said. 

Heaton said Southern Utah reported five additional cases of COVID-19 Friday for a total of 11 in two days. There have been 81 cases overall in Southern Utah with one death

All five of the new cases Friday were in Washington County. Heaton said there is no evidence the increase in cases over the last two days has anything to do with the gathering last week April 15 in St. George outside the Washington County Administrative Building. 

Heaton said the last two weeks have seen an increase in the number of people who were able to be tested after the state allowed anyone with any kind of symptom to be tested.

“It’s more likely we’re seeing the results of more emphasis on testing with less restrictive criteria,” Heaton said.

The color phases come from the “Utah Leads Together 2.0 plan” formulated after a mandate by the Utah Legislature, which lays 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.

Herbert said the expectation is that it will be impossible to eliminate all possibilities the virus can be transmitted until a vaccine is in place.

 “We will not be the way we were before until we have a vaccine. Green would be the new normal,” Herbert said. “We’re about managing risk. There is no belief we can get to zero risk, but we’re going to try to manage it.”

Moving into an orange phase would mean restaurants could allow dine-in services as long as they take substantial distancing and cleanliness precautions.

In this file photo, customers dine at the Painted Pony in St. George. Restaurants and bars in Washington County and across the state were ordered to suspend dine-in operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has resulted in a heavy economic hit for these and other businesses, St. George, Utah, Aug. 8, 2019 | File photo by Mikayla Shoup, St. George News

It would also recommend allowing for some haircutting and other personal services to reopen, though it would have to be under strict hygiene protocols. The stylist and the customer would both need to wear face coverings and there needs to be meticulous monitoring of symptoms.

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, is among those already following those recommendations.

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.

St. George News has learned that the Hampton Inn & Suites at 1250 West SunRiver Parkway will be allowing guests to begin using its pool at 50% capacity and have inside dining with “reasonable space” between tables once the state moves into the orange guidelines. 

An e-mail to employees at the hotel also states the hotel will be following all of the other state guidelines at the orange level including face coverings for employees, continuous symptom checking and an increased cleaning regimen. 

Hampton Inn & Suites St. George at SunRiver, date and location unspecified | Photo courtesy of Wittwer Hospitality, St. George News

Herbert said over the next week he will be conferring with health and industry officials to decide how to proceed with starting to reopen the economy. 

But for those who are at high risk of fatality from the coronavirus – those over 60 as well as those with preexisting health conditions – the state recommends they stay home and isolated as much as possible whether the color phase is orange, yellow or green. 

With that, one of the major determinations that will need to be made will be how to address those who are high risk and need to work. However, for all of those who have lost their job, Herbert said 70% have been furloughed. “That means there’s a job waiting for them when we open up,” Herbert said.   

Governor halts state purchase of hydroxychloroquine 

Herbert said Friday that after a Federal Drug and Food Administration alert of the harmful effects of hydroxychloroquine as a possible treatment for coronavirus, he is putting a halt to the state’s purchase of the drug and launching a review.

A report earlier in the week  said the state Office of Management and Budget spent $800,000 on the purchase of the drug. Herbert said Friday that he had no knowledge of the purchase. 

The FDA said in an alert Friday  that hydroxychloroquine has created serious and potentially life-threatening heart rhythm problems in patients who have taken it as a coronavirus treatment. 

Some people had some hype on it and the president has mentioned it. Even when the FDA said today not to use it, we have people still touting it,” Herbert said. “The bottom line is we aren’t purchasing any more and under review.”

COVID-19 information resources

Southern Utah coronavirus count (as of April 24, 2020)

Positive COVID-19 tests: 81, including 1 death and 58 recoveries.

  • Washington County: 56 (5 new)
  • Iron County: 21
  • Garfield County: 1
  • Kane County: 3
  • Beaver County: 0

Hospitalized: 1

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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