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Gov. Herbert may lower Utah's risk level for COVID-19 as soon as next week

Posted at 6:33 PM, Apr 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-24 21:04:05-04

SALT LAKE CITY — Governor Gary Herbert said he may reduce Utah's risk level from "red" to "orange" as early as next week, clearing the way for more businesses to re-open.

Speaking at a briefing on Friday, the governor indicating he was contemplating going with a recommendation by a legislative commission on re-opening Utah. It suggested the color-coded alert level be reduced. But he said he wanted his own coronavirus task forces to review it.

"Moving from high risk to moderate risk does not mean we are going back to business as usual," Gov. Herbert cautioned.

But the move could allow restaurants to begin dine-in service, gyms and other businesses shuttered to re-open. The governor cautioned that the color code could be different based on where you are in the state.

There would also be restrictions. For example, restaurants would be forced to limit how many customers they can have and tables would need to be rearranged to accommodate social distancing. Employees would need to get things like temperature checks and report any symptoms consistent with COVID-19.

The governor said in any decision he makes on lifting restrictions, data will drive it. Hospitalization rates are decreasing overall, he said, and medical capacity has not been exceeded.

"This is not something we're just taking out of thin air," he said.

On Friday, Utah's Department of Health reported 39 deaths from COVID-19. There are 3,782 positive cases and 315 hospitalizations since the beginning of the outbreak.

The governor said he would also respect local health authorities' decisions. Some counties have issued stay-at-home orders in response to higher case numbers of COVID-19 than the rest of the state.

In an interview with FOX 13, Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson said she was not prepared to lift some restrictions quite yet. The county's overall case count for COVID-19 is still high, and Hispanic/Latinx and Pacific Islander communities are disproportionately being affected. She is also monitoring cases among people experiencing homelessness.

Mayor Wilson has already lessened the county's stay-at-home order, and other public health orders are set to expire May 1. But she said data is driving her decisions to lift the restrictions still in place.

"This is not simple. We wish desperately we could flip the switch on. The virus isn’t giving us that opportunity," she told FOX 13.

To businesses and people impacted, the mayor said: "Hang in there. We hope to have news shortly. I hope that we can, along with the state, have some openings."

The Salt Lake County Health Department said Friday it was seeing some early indications of a plateau in COVID-19 cases, but needed additional days worth of data to be sure.

"We do have those pockets where we have seen increases over the past couple of weeks in cases," said Gary Edwards, the health department director. "Their rates are higher than we expected."

Both the mayor and governor urged people to continue to stay home, practice good hygiene and exercise social distancing when out in public.