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Rural counties move to 'green' COVID-19 risk level

Posted at 10:01 PM, Jun 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-20 00:22:19-04

Nine rural counties have moved to the lowest risk level on the state's color-coded chart for COVID-19.

Effective 1 p.m. Friday, Beaver, Daggett, Duchesne, Emery, Garfield, Millard, Piute, Uintah and Wayne counties transitioned to a "green" risk level. Much of the state remains at a "yellow" or low risk for COVID-19.

Millard County commissioners petitioned the governor to go "green," and for them, this is a step to help local businesses.

“For them, it’s going to be a great thing to get back to what’s going to be called the 'new normal,'" commissioner Dean Draper said.

Millard County has only eight confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic started. According to the county, they are all traced to people coming into the area and not community spread.

“The remoteness and the small population is believed to contribute to having very few,” Draper said. “It made sense that we make it so that our people that are in business have an opportunity to open their doors.”

For business owner Gayle Cluff, going "green" doesn’t mean overnight, but instead keeping things safe for the time being.

“I really want to take care of my employees and my family,” said Cluff, the owner of Cluff’s Car Hop Cafe.

“My grandfather started this in 1950 for his children. My father went into this business. I worked side-by-side with my dad. Now my daughters are working with me, [and] my grand kids are working with me,” Cluff added. “Our customers are generational too, so the kids are coming in."

On Thursday, when announcing the change, Herbert stated that the counties moving into the green risk category make up only 3 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 the statement. "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 the change came on the same day Utah reported 586 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.

For more information on what "green" level means, click here.