SALT LAKE CITY — Governor Gary Herbert unveiled the latest version of the state's plan for economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, vowing the state would rebound stronger than before.
"We’re going to rebound and be stronger than ever before over the next year as we, in fact, have learned lessons from this difficult time and make us stronger and better prepared for the future," he told reporters during a news conference Wednesday.
"Utah Leads Together Vol. 4" builds on previous plans for the state's recovery. It also sets an ambitious 500-day recovery plan to move the state out of needing stimulus dollars and into full-fledged recovery.
"The state begins to pivot away from stimulus and recovery to lay the groundwork for economic expansion through infrastructure and human capital investments," said Theresa Foxley, CEO of the Economic Development Corporation of Utah.
The plan was praised by House Speaker Brad Wilson and Senate President J. Stuart Adams, who have been working on economic recovery efforts on a legislative level. Lawmakers will meet in special session on Thursday to pass a stripped down budget in response to the economic fallout.
Speaker Wilson praised Utahns for doing their part to "flatten the curve."
"Now the state is well positioned to take advantage and get our economy growing again," the Speaker said.
However, cases have spiked and Utah's Department of Health said we are actually in an acceleration phase of the outbreak. That has been expected by health officials as the state loosened COVID-19 restrictions and opened things up more.
"We’ve been seeing an increase in the past three weeks with over 200 daily new cases," state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn told reporters. "The risk of being exposed to COVID-19 is higher than ever in Utah."
Dr. Dunn pleaded with people to continue to wear face coverings, exercise social distancing, hand hygiene and staying home when ill.
"We’re definitely seeing an increase in our growth rate and unfortunately have not yet had that plateau," she said.
Sen. Adams said hospital capacity had not been exceeded, which is a critical measurement of the pandemic.
"We can open up the economy if we take care of the medically frail. We’ve said it over and over and over again," he told reporters.
The Senate President, who recently tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies, said Utah could move to a "smart green," referencing the state's color-coded chart of risk level. He also said face coverings were essential as things loosened up.
But Gov. Herbert admitted he had concerns that infections in Utah continued to climb, especially as restrictions were loosened. He warned that Utah could slide back more restrictions if things got worse.
"It does cause us concern and pause as we see this rate of infections go up and what do we do about it? Actually, having a healthy community, protecting ourselves from the virus and healthy recovery economically are not mutually exclusive ideas," he told FOX 13.
The governor urged Utahns to wear face coverings in public more, likening it to using a seat belt.
The latest "Utah Leads Together" plan does not remove health guidelines. In fact, it pushes workplaces to adopt the best practices for social distancing, face coverings and hygiene to slow the spread of coronavirus.
"First off, everybody wear your mask," Foxley said.
Derek Miller, who leads the Salt Lake Chamber and chairs the governor's COVID-19 Economic Recovery Task Force, said they were launching a campaign, "Stay Safe to Stay Open," that encourages best practices. Businesses could also display signs in their windows showing their commitment to hygiene as a way of building consumer confidence.
"We cannot recover our economy unless we’re also at the same time engaging in safe health practices," Miller said.
Watch the entire news conference here: