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SLC may move to 'yellow' by the end of this week as Utah's health orders on COVID-19 expire

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Posted at 3:24 PM, May 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-26 20:17:01-04

SALT LAKE CITY — Public health orders implemented because of COVID-19 will expire on Friday, but it does not appear Utah will loosen any more restrictions by then.

"Everyone is anxious to get out and I’m among them," Lt. Governor Spencer Cox, who heads the governor's coronavirus task force, said in an interview Tuesday on FOX 13's Good Day Utah. "We’ve all been cooped up for far too long, but it’s important to remember that the virus is still out there."

Utah recently moved on the color-coded risk scale from "orange" -- or moderate risk level -- to "yellow" or low risk. With it came an expansion of businesses that could re-open, larger gatherings people could attend, but also a series of guidelines for various aspects of life crafted by state health officials and outlined in the governor's "Utah Leads Together 3.0" plan.

Last week, Governor Gary Herbert moved Summit and Wasatch counties to the "yellow" level. Grand County, Salt Lake City, West Valley City, Magna, Bluff and Mexican Hat remain "orange" because of higher case counts of COVID-19.

Appearing before the Salt Lake City Council, Mayor Erin Mendenhall suggested the city might move to a "yellow" status by the end of this week.

"As you know we’re still in the orange status, but we’re trying to work proactively with the county and the state for an anticipated shift to yellow on May 30. That is for us very much still pending some additional public health information," she told members of the council.

Council member Dan Dugan asked about possibly delaying that for another two weeks. Mayor Mendenhall said she would be happy to have more data, but what has already come back has given county and state officials greater confidence "about what yellow means."

Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson, who has slowly eased restrictions in recent weeks, did not offer any time frame.

"We are continuing to look at the data from the holiday weekend and are in regular contact with the state to determine the next steps," her office told FOX 13 on Tuesday.

To move from orange to yellow isn't a huge step when it comes to health guidelines. But to move to green significantly changes a number of regulations and requirements at a time when cases are, for the most part, still increasing. The state has not seen its health care system overwhelmed and is now focusing on vulnerable and at-risk populations.

Click here to see the latest phased-in guidelines from the state

"Unfortunately, right now in the state of Utah about 15% of our population is Latino and about 30% of our hospitalizations," Lt. Gov. Cox said. "So we have to do a better job on focusing on those communities as well."

On Tuesday, Utah's Department of Health reported 8,620 positive cases of COVID-19 (an increase of 99 from the day before); 101 deaths total (up three from the day before) and 198,592 total tests. There are 98 positive COVID-19 cases currently hospitalized. The deaths were all people over the age of 60 who were hospitalized at the time of death. Two were from Salt Lake County, one from San Juan County.

Asked to provide a time frame of when Utah might move to "green" risk level, he told FOX 13: "We’re hopeful if Utahns continue to do what we’ve asked them to do, if we can slow the spread of this virus, we’ll be back to green sometime this summer."

The state has pleaded with Utahns to continue to practice social distancing, good hygiene, sanitization and wearing face masks in public to slow the spread of the virus and help re-open parts of the state. Lt. Gov. Cox said the COVID-19 Task Force continues to evaluate the latest data to determine whether to lift restrictions.

"The governor has said we’re going to let data drive this so I can’t really give dates. I guess if we’re looking for a best case scenario? The best case scenario would be in a couple of weeks that we’ve changed and we haven’t seen an increase in risk and people are being cautious and they’re wearing masks and not spreading the disease," he said. "If we can do that and not see risks, it’s possible."