ST. GEORGE — Washington County is set to begin a phased reopening of businesses following Gov. Gary Herbert’s guidelines starting Friday.
The goal to begin to reopen the local economy will be based on Southern Utah’s response to the governor’s wishes and upon the upcoming directives issued from the Southwest Utah Public Health Department.
The focus will be on businesses most impacted by COVID-19 closures, namely those in the hospitality industry and restaurants, Washington County Commissioner Victor Iverson said
“We want people to feel comfortable and safe as we get back to some sort of business as usual,” he said.
Fortunately, Iverson said, the pandemic has not been as severe in Southern Utah as it has been in the northern part of the state, but there is still a desire to return to “normal” life.
Iverson said while he realizes the need to keep people safe, everyone is growing weary and there has to be a prudent balance between what reopens and what does not.
“That is why the guidelines will be critical,” Iverson said. “We are really looking at restaurants. These are the businesses were are looking at right now.”
The shutdown has made many people anxious to get life back to normal, he added.
“Everyone wants our community to stay safe and our vulnerable populations cared for,” Iverson said.
Along with the St. George city council, Iverson said the Washington County government embraces the thought that the community is all in this together, needs to act for a common goal and have patience in times of crisis.
“As a county, we’ve tried from the very beginning of this to implement practices such as shutting down our senior centers, extended our meals on wheels … and made changes to our library system,” Iverson said. “We need to meet the needs of the public, but at the same time help people feel comfortable.”
For many, dealing with the pandemic is uncharted territory.
“There have been a lot of unknowns, and the unknowns have decisions being made,” Iverson said. “I am not critical other than we need to be careful that the reaction is followed up with a plan.”
This is why the county has formulated a plan to help local businesses open, survive and thrive, he said.
“We do have more information about the virus, and there is no doubt this might be somewhat seasonal and return to some degree,” Iverson said. “We are starting to recognize the contagion rate and the mortality rate is not as high as originally forecasted.”
The initial estimates that there would be more than 20 million deaths globally and 3-4 million deaths in the United States as a result of COVID-19 has so far not become a reality. While the number of cases and deaths are high, Iverson said, local governments should make decisions based on the reality of what is happening now and not in fear of past predictions.
“There is no doubt that COVID-19 will necessarily disappear, but we need to always adhere to good health practices of washing our hands, not touching our face after handling a public doorknob and keeping our distance, especially now as long as this persists,” he said.
As the dynamics of the virus change, Iverson said, so will how government and citizens adapt.
“It is an interesting time that we live in,” he said.
Everyone in Southern Utah has been pulling together, Iverson added.
“As this came down and we began scrambling getting the business loan program up and going, people began setting up Facebook pages and volunteering,” he said. “This reminded me that this community and the great people that move here are so giving. We are really blessed.”
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