Governor Gary Herbert announced he would move nine rural counties to the lowest risk level on the state's color-coded chart for COVID-19.
Effective 1pm Friday, Beaver, Daggett, Duchesne, Emery, Garfield, Millard, Piute, Uintah and Wayne counties would transition to a "green" risk level. Much of the state remains at a "yellow" or low risk for COVID-19.
"The nine counties moving into the Green, or ‘New Normal’ risk category account for a wide swath of Utah’s geography, but only three percent of Utah’s population. They also have some of Utah’s lowest case counts and hospitalization rates. The rural lifestyle they enjoy is defined by wider physical distancing, and smaller, less densely populated towns. Although no area is completely free from risk, we feel comfortable having these sparsely populated regions transition from Yellow to Green," the governor said in a statement late Thursday.
"I continue to be very concerned, however, about the potential threat to hospital capacity from the increasing case counts in our more densely populated regions. As we re-engage economically, we need greater personal responsibility, not less. Utah residents must continue to keep one another safe through common-sense physical distancing, mask wearing, staying home when sick, and regular hand washing."
Some of the counties moving to the "new normal" status have some of the lowest case numbers of COVID-19. Some have had no documented cases of COVID-19. But it came on the same day Utah reported 495 new cases of coronavirus and three new fatalities.
"Green" health risk features guidelines still encourage maintaining social distancing and wearing face masks in public, along with requirements that businesses continue to sanitize and people practice good hygiene. It allows larger gatherings with increased hygiene measures and encouraged social distancing.
The governor has warned that if hospital capacity worsens, things could move backward. Legislative leaders have pushed to re-open things faster, arguing that hospitalization rates remain stable even as cases accelerate.
The order was announced the same day Salt Lake City Mayor, Erin Mendenhall, opted to keep Salt Lake City at "orange" or a moderate health risk. Cases continue to rise in the city, even though the mayor had hoped to seek to move to "yellow" this week.
For more information on what "green" level means, click here.