SALT LAKE CITY — Governor Gary Herbert lowered Utah's COVID-19 risk level from "red" to "orange," clearing the way for some businesses to begin slowly opening again.
The governor made the announcement Tuesday at a briefing on the pandemic and its impact on the state. Utah is using a color-coded system to reduce restrictions. It means moderate risk for most people, but still a high risk for those who are considered vulnerable to the virus.
It is effective May 1.
"This is not going back to businesses as usual. We’re not to that point yet, that’ll be in the green stage," the governor cautioned. "This is our second level, red to orange. It means that we still have risk for COVID-19, it’s out of an opportunity for us, to in fact, open up more economic opportunity. It will only maintain itself, at this new orange level, if we have continued vigilance. So the onus is really on all of us."
FOX 13 first reported Monday night that the governor was expected to make the recommendation. On Tuesday, Salt Lake County announced it was going to align with the governor's recommendation. Mayor Jenny Wilson had Utah's most populous county under stricter orders. The governor said he would work with local governments, noting that some even want to be less strict than the state.
"We have been a seeing a flattening of the curve and a slow re-opening is a good idea," said Dr. Angela Dunn, the state epidemiologist. "And in order to continue to see a flattening or even a decrease, to continue to social distance where possible, wear masks when you're not social distancing and, of course, staying home if you are at all sick or have been around someone who's sick. That will ensure we continue to protect the most vulnerable while seeing a decrease in cases."
The governor also loosened the restrictions for groups to 20 or less. His directives previously set it at 10 or less.
Gov. Herbert stressed that people must start wearing a face mask in public. He said he did not like seeing so many people without a mask when he visited grocery stores.
The governor announced a program to get Utahns to wear face masks, by partnering with companies, Salt Lake County and other manufacturers to make two million masks available for free for those who don't have one. Lt. Governor Spencer Cox, who heads the state's COVID-19 task force, said people could request one at coronavirus.utah.gov/mask and it would be shipped to them in a few weeks. However, the site was inundated with requests and crashed.
"We know this disease is spread through droplets. By wearing a mask, even if we don’t have the disease, we’re asymptomatic, it stops our droplets from spreading it to someone else," Lt. Gov. Cox said.