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Utah County Attorney: Health Dept. was wrong about COVID-19 violations at two businesses

Posted at 12:41 PM, May 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-26 19:26:51-04

PROVO, Utah — Utah County Attorney David Leavitt said the County Commission's May 4 statement that two businesses forced their employees to work, causing the spread of COVID-19 to 68 people, is unsubstantiated.

The County Commission's statement said the two unnamed businesses "did not follow COVID-19 best practices" and "instructed employees to not follow quarantine guidelines after exposure to a confirmed case at work and required employees with confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis to still report to work."

The information was sent out by the Utah County Commission. The information was provided by the Utah County Health Department, which gathered the information through contact tracing, Leavitt said.

“People who tested positive made certain statements that led health department officials to believe people were being forced to work despite testing positive,” he said.

Leavitt said members of his office met with Utah County Health Department officials before an investigation into the matter.

"What we learned from that was that the original communication from the Health Department wasn't accurate. In fact, there were not two businesses that were forcing employees to work. That was information that was not right. It was communicated out of an abundance of caution to the County Commission, and, as we've gotten deeper into the issue, we've learned that the assertions weren't true," Leavitt said in an online news conference Tuesday.

When asked about the other claims, such as businesses not following COVID-19 guidelines, Leavitt said he did not have any information on that. The news conference was strictly about the allegations into sick employees being forced to work.

“I did not begin a criminal investigation beyond asking my investigator to visit with the health department because it became abundantly clear that there was nothing to investigate,” Leavitt said.

Leavitt said there was no information that the businesses did anything wrong.

“I am not going to say the health department made it up — the health department reported on what it learned,” he said. “I am not saying those businesses were not a hot spot. I am saying that these businesses were not forcing their employees to work while sick."

Leavitt also spoke on the County's decision not to publicly identify the businesses. He said they have denied all GRAMA requests.

"We didn't name the businesses because the allegations were not substantiated [and] because ... the businesses did not service the walk-in public. So we believed that we didn't need to warn the public because the public had no threat of stumbling into a business that was engaging in this kind of conduct," Leavitt said.

Leavitt confirmed the Utah County Attorney's Office is not investigating any Utah County businesses related to COVID-19.

Last week, a program manager for the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food confirmed the agency shut down one of those businesses for five days so the business could be sanitized.

"When we hear stories about people being asked to work while they’re having symptoms that’s where we immediately focus our attention. Because we want to make sure that’s not happening," said Rick Beckstrand, the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food's manufactured food regulatory program manager.

Asked if they have been able to prove if that is happening, he replied: "No. We’ve got information that’s it’s kind of hearsay at this point."

Utah County Commissioner Bill Lee released the following statement:

“Information is only good when it is accurate. I had received word a few weeks ago from the Utah County Health Department that two businesses had instructed employees to not follow quarantine guidelines after exposure to COVID-19. According to Utah County Attorney David Leavitt, who has since looked into this matter, there is no supporting evidence that those two businesses forced their employees to continue working after being exposed to COVID-19. I also note that to this day, I have never been told the names of the two businesses in question. I refer any further questions about this matter to the Utah County Health Department or to Mr. Leavitt.”

The Utah County Health Department is expected to issue a statement Wednesday.