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Utah could start lifting COVID-19 restrictions this week

Posted at 4:17 PM, Apr 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-27 22:16:55-04

SALT LAKE CITY — Governor Gary Herbert this week is expected to make a formal recommendation to start lifting some restrictions on businesses and re-opening parts of the state closed by COVID-19.

Under his "Utah Leads Together 2.0" plan, the state will move from a "red" to "orange" phase, which triggers a phased-in approach to re-opening things from restaurants to entertainment venues to barbers and salons. The decision to move to a lower risk category will be made by the governor, who said he will let data decide when restrictions start easing.

"This phased approach of red, orange, yellow and green is very prudent," state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn said at a briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic on Monday.

Dr. Dunn said she was included in making the recommendations for each of the phases, which sets restrictions at different levels for various aspects of Utah's economic life.

"It is a very slow approach, so when we move from red to orange, life does not go back to pre-COVID-19 ways. There are a lot of restrictions that are placed on businesses opening to ensure social distancing and ensure prevention of COVID-19 spread," she said in response to a question about it from FOX 13.

Under the plan, when Utah moves from red to orange, business restrictions include:

  • Restaurants can allow dine-in service, but tables must be six-feet apart and employees must wear masks and adhere to strict cleaning guidelines.
  • Office workers will be encouraged to continue to work from home. If a business necessitates on-site work, they must monitor for symptoms and employee well-being.
  • Personal services like barbers and salons can re-open, but both stylist and customer must wear facemasks and appointments must be stagged to ensure proper cleaning (no walk-in appointments would be allowed). Some services, like waxing, piercings and beard trims would not be allowed.
  • Grocery stores must still enforce social distancing and employees must wear face masks.
  • Some entertainment venues like theatres could reopen, "with strict social-distancing requirements and increased cleaning regimen."
  • Gyms are recommended to remain closed, but if they do re-open they must follow space and cleaning guidelines.

Read more of the Utah Department of Health's guidelines for businesses here.

Derek Miller, the CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber, who chairs the governor's coronavirus economic recovery task force and sits on the Utah State Legislature's commission to re-open the state, said he anticipated Utah would start moving to a lower risk level this week.

"The data certainly shows we’re moving in the right direction," he said in an interview with FOX 13, referring to overall COVID-19 cases and hospitalization rates.

Miller said they were working to make sure businesses were up to speed on the guidelines and working to ensure consumer confidence in health and safety protocols.

"It’s one thing for a business to open its doors. It’s another thing for consumers to walk through those doors and feel comfortable and confident to do that," he said.

Different parts of the state could be under different color coding, Miller said. But under the law passed by the Utah State Legislature that created its COVID-19 re-opening commission, counties and cities may find it difficult to be more restrictive than the state.

"They can be less strict than the governor. They can’t be more strict unless they get special dispensation from him," Miller told FOX 13.

That could pose issues for Salt Lake County, Summit County and other health departments that have been more restrictive than the state so far in reponse to higher COVID-19 caseloads. Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson, whose original stay-at-home order is set to expire May 1, told FOX 13 last week she is reviewing data but was not yet prepared to ease restrictions for the state's most populous county (she has already lifted some aspects of the county's public health order).

The governor has said he is willing to work with local health departments on issues unique to their areas and has allowed them to exceed his original "Stay Safe, Stay Home" directive. A spokeswoman for the mayor said she is reviewing what the governor is doing and hopes to be on the same page.

Dr. Dunn said the color-coded risk level system will be continually monitored for a resurgance of cases, and gives the state the flexibility to react and increase restrictions, if need be.

"The goal is to go from red to orange and continue to loosen up restrictions, because are seeing a better control of COVID-19 here in Utah," she said. "However, it is good to know we do have those triggers that will alert us that maybe we loosened the restrictions too soon and we need to move the restrictions back."