‘It is time’: Washington County submits another request to governor for green COVID-19 status

Rendering of the COVID-19 form of the coronavirus. | Photo by berkozel, iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Following a positive month for reductions in COVID-19 related cases, Washington County is again petitioning the Governor’s Office to lower the county’s pandemic threat level to green.

Infographic by Chris Reed, St. George News | Illustration of virus by Fusion Medical Animation/Unsplash, St. George News

Washington County Commissioner Gil Almquist posted on Facebook Friday that he wrote a new letter on behalf of the commission that has been sent to the Governor’s Office.

“With cases less than 10 per day per a 100,000 population, it is time to move the area to green status,” the letter states.

The letter also notes that local schools have been in session for a month and have had a 0.00025% infection rate among the combined student and staff population of 40,000, which translates to 10 individual cases. None of those cases were contacted at the school, the letter states.

Large events and gatherings, such as the recent Washington County Fair, have also been held with “no associated increase in cases,” according to the letter.

“A steady stream of out of town visitors have increased traffic in our stores, restaurants, parks and trails with no noticeable increase in cases or hospitalizations,” the letter continues. “The citizens have taken seriously their personal responsibility to mitigate the effects of the virus.”

Going green will serve as an “economic assist” for impacted businesses in the county, as well as allow larger gatherings, Almquist told St. George News Friday.

The letter the Washington County Commission submitted to Gov. Gary Herbert’s Office Sept. 4, 2020, requesting the have county’s COVID-19 threat status reduced from low risk (yellow) the nominal (green). | Letter courtesy of the Washington County Commission, St. George News | Click to enlarge

“We’ve earned the right to go green,” he said. “Green is as close to normal as any other color or flavor.”

Should the Governor’s Office grant the request for Washington County to go green, larger gatherings will be permitted, provided increased hygiene, physical distancing, face coverings and symptom monitoring continue to be observed.

All businesses and dine-in services will be able to reopen completely with precautions set in place.

Following hygiene guidelines, social distancing and the wearing of face masks where remaining 6 feet apart may not be feasible in the workspace is too continue.

Places of worship that may have shut their doors or reduced services could also reopen or expand services and are encouraged to practice social distancing, good hygiene and the wearing of face coverings.

“With broad-based support among all three Washington County commissioners, school administrators, mayors, city council members, state representatives, the health department and citizens, the move to green status is a step toward local management and responsibility,” according to the letter.

The letter further states the wearing of face masks would be encouraged, but not mandatory. Observance of physical distancing guidelines would also be the individual responsibility of groups, businesses and places of worship in accordance with health department guidelines.

Dr. David Blodgett, who oversees the Southwest Utah Public Health Department, agrees with the move to push Washington County to green status, David Heaton, a spokesman for the health department, said Friday.

The letter itself is being sent to the Governor’s Office through the local health department.

Photo illustration. | Photo by Cottonbro, Pexels, St. George News

Though there was a slight spike in COVID-19 cases at the start of the month, Heaton said it was nothing beyond what the local health care system would be able to handle.

For now, only five people are hospitalized with cases of COVID-19. Unfortunately, the health department also reported Friday that a Washington County man between 65-84 years old who had been hospitalized due to the virus had died. His death brings the county’s total death toll to 28.

While it appears large public gatherings haven’t sparked an uptick in COVID-19 cases, Heaton said people still need to be cautious with the coming Labor Day weekend.

“We would encourage everyone with Labor Day weekend plans to do all they can to decrease their degree of possible exposure,” Heaton said.

Almquist said he wasn’t too worried about the upcoming holiday weekend.

“I’m not concerned with that,” he said. “Primarily because people have already been coming here from all over. St. George has become a melting pot for people looking for freedom, and Labor Day may likely increase (virus cases), but nothing beyond what we can handle already.”

Washington County Commissioner Gil Almquist, St. George, Utah, June 16, 2020 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Washington County officials previously attempted to get a lower virus threat level approved by Gov. Gary Herbert but were rejected as the “numbers were not adequate” at the time, Almquist said.

As for the county’s chance of getting a green designation this time, Almquist said he was 80% certain it would happen. Heaton also said the county may have a fair chance of going green.

The governor signed executive orders Thursday loosening COVID-19 restrictions for Salt Lake and Sevier counties. In the five-county area of the state, Beaver, Garfield and Kane counties were previously granted green status.

Washington and Iron counties are currently at the low-risk yellow level for COVID-19 restriction.

Heaton confirmed Friday that both Iron and Washington counties have asked to move them from yellow status to be changed to green.

COVID-19 information resources

St. George News has made every effort to ensure the information in this story is accurate at the time it was written. However, as the situation and science surrounding the coronavirus continues to evolve, it’s possible that some data has changed.

We invite you to check the resources below for up-to-date information and resources.

Southern Utah coronavirus count (as of Sept. 4, 2020, seven-day average in parentheses)

Positive COVID-19 tests: 3,693 (21.7 new infections per day in seven days, rising)

  • Washington County: 2,881 (16.7 per day, rising)
  • Iron County: 667 (4.6 per day, dropping)
  • Kane County: 66 (0.4 per day, rising)
  • Garfield County: 46 (0 per day, steady) 
  • Beaver County: 33 (0 per day, steady) 

Deaths: 28 (0.1 per day, rising)

  • Washington County: 23 (1 new)
  • Iron County: 2
  • Garfield County: 2
  • Kane County: 1

Hospitalized: 5 (dropping)

Recovered: 3,305

Current Utah seven-day average: 411 (rising)

St. George News reporter Chris Reed contributed to this article.

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

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