SALT LAKE CITY — Governor Gary Herbert will move different parts of Utah to different risk levels for COVID-19, but for the most part he will keep existing health restrictions in place.
It comes as Utah's Department of Health has reported a spike in coronavirus cases since Memorial Day, when the state moved to a "yellow" or low risk level. State epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn said that was anticipated as more things started opening up.
"By and large, we are seeing this increase in cases throughout the state from Logan to St. George," she said.
But Dr. Dunn pleaded with Utahns to continue to exercise social distancing (staying 6-feet from others), hand washing and wearing face coverings in public.
"For everyone, as we move forward, it is essential that we all modify our behaviors to prevent the spread of COVID-19, especially those who are at high risk of this disease," she said.
Gov. Herbert told reporters the rising case numbers made him decide against moving the state to a lower risk level, despite the urging of a legislative commission dedicated to re-opening the state.
"It gives us pause," he said of the case spike. "So right now I'm in the pause mode of moving us out of yellow and into green."
Still, Kane County will drop to the lowest level for the novel coronavirus, a "green" or "new normal" level. Mexican Hat and Bluff, located near the Navajo Nation, will lower their risk level to yellow.
"There is significant distance there and hospitalization rates are low so data informs us they are able to move to yellow in Bluff and Mexican Hat," the governor said.
But for the most part, the remainder of the state will stay at a "yellow" or "low risk" level. Salt Lake City will remain at an "orange" or "moderate risk" for COVID-19 because of high case numbers.
Cache County and Kane County leaders formally requested to move to a green level. Cache County is currently in the midst of an outbreak with a high number of cases surrounding a meatpacking plant in the Logan area. The governor said he had yet to see Cache County's request, but appeared to question the decision to move that area to a lower risk level.
At the same time, health guidelines surrounding a "green" status are being revised. New health guidelines include social distancing, and a strong recommendation for face coverings in public.
Gov. Herbert was particularly critical of people who would not wear face coverings in public. He pleaded with people to adopt the practice for the health of themselves, their loved ones and their neighbors.
"I know that wearing a mask is sometimes uncomfortable, inconvenient, maybe people just don't like the way we look. But this is designed to help ourselves and our neighbors," he said.
The governor said he likely could not mandate the wearing of masks, but said businesses could require it and people could make their own decision to be respectful of their family and neighbors.
"Unfortunately, those who don't wear masks not only are endangering their own selves but endangering people they're around. Their neighbors, their friends," he said. "They ought to have consideration for their well being."