SALT LAKE CITY — Almost as soon as Governor Gary Herbert announced it, people had questions about the new COVID-19 restrictions and risk levels.
The state will no longer be under a color-coded restriction scale that people complained was confusing. Now, counties will live under a scale that categorizes counties based on low, medium and high transmission risk. That comes with it some new restrictions, including limiting the size of gatherings among family and friends (less than 10 people if you're in a high risk area; 25 in a moderate risk area; 50 in a low risk area). All public events must ensure physical distancing and face masks (which are being required across moderate and high risk areas).
FOX 13 took some of the questions submitted on social media and took them to Utah's Department of Health, which is now overseeing the new restrictions and risk levels. Here's some of your questions and their answers:
Does this give the health department more authority?
The decision to move a county from a high to a moderate to a low level is based on data from case numbers, percent positive rates and ICU capacity. Those decisions are made every Thursday. The Utah Department of Health will issue orders instead of the governor or legislature.
What is the effect on gyms?
"Primarily, everybody in that business or everybody in that gym needs to maintain six feet of physical distancing. If they can’t, they need to wear a mask," said UDOH spokesman Tom Hudachko, who explained they fall under businesses.
Are youth sports still happening? Can they meet if there's more than 10 people on a team?
"High schools are governed by a formal organization [the Utah High School Activities Association] so we treat those as events. High school sports can go on," Hudachko said. "Players on the field, players on the court do not have to be wearing masks. But spectators in the stands do. And spectators in the stands should maintain physical distancing."
Why aren't schools in high-risk areas moved online?
The state has deemed schools essential. They provide more than just classroom instruction, Hudachko said.
"A lot of time schools provide food for kids, two meals a day, they provide structure for those kids, often times they provide parents with the ability to go to work," he said. "So we feel like schools, working with their local health departments and working with their boards of education have good plans in place. They know what to do in terms of going hybrid if they need to."
What about day cares? Are they schools or businesses?
UDOH says day care facilities are governed by the Office of Child Care Licensing, so they're treated like businesses. But in addition to that, state health officials have given guidelines to child care centers on what they need to do to keep kids and staff in those centers safe.
What about weddings and receptions?
If a wedding is happening at a licensed event center or venue? The rules for that business oversee it (which include requirements they ensure physical distancing and mask wearing). If it's a backyard wedding?
"If your having a wedding in your backyard and you’re in a county that’s in a high or moderate risk level? You should have fewer than 10 people there," Hudachko said.
Are elective surgeries being postponed because of the new restrictions?
Utah's Department of Health doesn't oversee surgeries, but some local health care systems have begun postponing it as COVID-19 cases have been surging again and hospitalizations for the deadly virus have increased lately.
Is the mask order for moderate transmission areas temporary?
"Masks are required in the high transmission levels. They are also required in the moderate transmission levels for the next two weeks. We wanted to do a bit of a shock the system, a circuit breaker, and we feel like having those requirements in these places, we will hopefully see a change over the next two weeks and re-evalaute and determine where to go from there," Hudachko said.
What does the governor believe will make people change if there's no enforcement?
There actually is an enforcement mechanism to all these public health orders.
"There is a criminal penalty that could be associated with them," Hudachko said.
However, the intent isn't to drag people to court but to educate.
"The intent really is to have good solid recommendations and requirements in place and make sure the public understands why they’re in place and to help with that compliance that way," he said.
What's the deal with church services?
Churches can still meet under the guidelines. They're classified as "public events" and don't need to abide by the limited gatherings. However, they still have their own restrictions. They must ensure mask wearing and physical distancing in the church.
If it's a youth group? That's still overseen by an organization (in this case the church) and so it falls under the same restrictions. An informal church youth group? Keep it to the 10, 25 or 50 rule based on where you're in as a "casual gathering."
Will everything be open? Will it ever be normal again?
Businesses can still stay open, if they follow the guidelines by Utah's Department of Health.
"What we’re trying to put in place is a structure that gets us through the point where we have a good vaccine in place that’s got good uptake and we get back to the way things used to be," Hudachko said. "But people need to understand it’s not going to happen overnight and it’s definitely not going to happen without their cooperation."