SALT LAKE CITY — At the Amanda Moncur Salon, stylists were wearing face masks as they scrubbed and sanitized their workstations to be ready to open for customers.
"We’ve been spending hours and hours cleaning and sanitizing," a stylist told FOX 13 as she put face masks and gloves in plastic bags as a sort-of "welcome bag" for guests who might have forgotten to bring their own as part of the new reality of living with COVID-19.
The South Jordan salon is one of thousands of businesses across Utah prepared to re-open on Friday when Governor Gary Herbert's executive order to lower the COVID-19 risk level goes into effect.
"This is a red letter day. No, it’s an orange letter day as we move forward to stabilization and then around the corner, recovery," he said, referring to Utah's color-coded restrictions system.
"Red" means high risk. "Orange" is a moderate risk level. Each level carries with it a set of regulations to operate safely. Under the moderate risk level, businesses like salons, gyms, restaurants and bars can re-open under a strict set of guidelines to emphasize social distancing and hygiene.
In response to a question from FOX 13, the governor said he was going to be watching closely to see if people continued to exercise the appropriate health precautions for COVID-19 on the first weekend of restrictions being loosened.
"It certainly is a concern. I’m not overly concerned," he said. "I see what we've done these last two months with everyone collaborating and working together and following direction. I think people understand for their own self, best interest and for their loved ones... I think people are willing to, in fact, do the right thing in the right way."
Still, the governor and Utah Department of Health announced plans for a special task force to monitor and watch for "hot spots" that pop up, able to respond quickly to help get control of cases before they spread.
"We’ll work with them very closely because we want to go from red to orange, we don’t want to go from orange to red. But if we have to do it, we’ll do that," the governor warned.
State epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn urged Utahns to continue to stay home, practice social distancing, wear face masks in public when social distancing is not possible, wash hands frequently, exercise good hygiene and sanitization to keep COVID-19 cases down.
"A lot of our success in slowing the spread is due to individuals recognizing there’s a risk and adhering to social distancing on their own," she told reporters. "I would expect them to continue doing so."
On Thursday, Utah's Department of Health reported 4,672 positive cases of COVID-19 (177 new from Wednesday); one new fatality in Salt Lake County for a total of 46 deaths; 108,501 tested; and 390 hospitalizations since the beginning of the outbreak. Dr. Dunn said Utah still had a 4.2% positive rate.
Some communities have apparently indicated they want to skip the "orange" level and go directly to "yellow." The law allows the governor to consider that request (just like Salt Lake County can ask for more restrictions to deal with a higher COVID-19 caseload).
Gov. Herbert told FOX 13 he had yet to hear a formal request from any of Utah's 29 counties to do so, but acknowledged some counties have no confirmed coronavirus cases.
"We’ll take a look at those requests and see if some variances are warranted," the governor said. "I expect we’ll all be kind of under an orange code for the next two weeks."