SALT LAKE CITY – Public health orders are set to expire – but, as coronavirus cases spike across Utah, state health leaders do not believe the beehive state is ready to go ‘green.’
As public health orders are set to expire come June 5, many Utahns have been left wondering when the state will move into the next level of opening under Governor Gary Herbert’s ‘Utah Leads Together 3.0’ plan.
Under the plan, every city or area in the state is assigned a color to denote risk levels.
Right now, the majority of the state is in the ‘yellow,’ depicting a low-risk for novel coronavirus. Only Salt Lake City, Bluff and Mexican Hat remain in the ‘orange,’ or moderate-risk level, due to a high number of cases.
But as businesses and the economy begin to re-open, we may not be as close to moving into the ‘green’ phase, or ‘new normal,’ just yet.
“I want to be very clear today, that we have increased spread of COVID-19 in Utah,” state epidemiologist, Dr. Angela Dunn, said on Wednesday during the weekly coronavirus briefing with the Utah Department of Health (UDOH).
In just one day the state saw 28 new hospitalizations, four new deaths and 295 new cases – bringing the states total coronavirus case count to 10,497.
Dunn said the new deaths were all male, Salt Lake County resident. Three were residents of a long-term care facility and one was hospitalized at the time of death with underlying medical conditions.
The increase in cases comes as counties across the state witnessed their highest weekly case numbers to date.
“This past week we’ve had a sharp spike in cases and it’s not explained easily by a single outbreak or increase in testing, this is a statewide trend,” said Dunn.
Utah has 13 local health jurisdictions. In the past week, Dunn said nine of the 13 experienced a greater than 15-percent growth.
“This really is a statewide trend,” Dunn said. “It could mean that we’re just starting the acceleration phase of the outbreak and can’t anticipate further increases over the coming weeks.”
The increase in cases comes nearly a month after the state started loosening COVID restrictions, allowing gyms, personal care services, restaurants and other businesses to re-open.
“We knew that [loosening restrictions] would likely increase cases in Utah,” said Dunn.
However, Dunn said, “It’s not the simple act of loosening restrictions that caused those cases to increase, [it’s] what we do in society and with our actions that can cause COVID-19 to spread more readily.”
Those actions include avoiding close contact with others, wearing a face covering, maintaining social distance, washing your hands and most importantly, staying home if you have any signs, even mild ones.
“Loosening restrictions does not mean that the risk of spread is decreasing,” said Dunn. “We must continue to take actions as individuals to avoid unnecessary illness and death due to COVID-19 in Utah.”
Dunn said as restrictions lifted, they saw an increase in ‘community spread.’ But, the majority of cases were spread through household members.
When it comes to outbreaks, Dunn said the vast majority were taking place in the workplace.
“What’s really increasing the cases in Utah, is really what’s happening across the country, it’s people being in close contact with each other, indoors for a prolonged period of time, that environment is really conducive to the spread of COVID-19” Dunn explained. “As we start to open up parts of society and our economy more, people would be working in social settings where that environment is more likely.”
On Tuesday, The Public Health and Economic Emergency Commission, which was created by the Utah State Legislature to re-open the economy, recommended the state move into the ‘green’ phase as early as this weekend.
Still, with the trend in numbers we are seeing, UDOH does not believe the state has achieved the green, ‘new-normal’ phase.
“Based on the data we have seen in the past week, we don’t recommend any jurisdiction in the state going to green,” said Dunn.
Gov. Herbert will make the final decision – taking both recommendations under consideration.