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Utah's move toward green 'new normal' phase could take months, governor suggests

A new 'Utah Leads Together' plan puts the focus on 'lives and livelihoods'
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Posted at 4:28 PM, May 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-20 21:17:11-04

SALT LAKE CITY — Governor Gary Herbert unveiled the latest version of his plan to help the state recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, focusing on "lives and livelihoods."

It's the third version of his "Utah Leads Together" plan, which lays out a road map to follow from the immediate public health crisis of novel coronavirus to economic stabilization and recovery.

"I think version 3.0 offers a bold vision of what we can do to accelerate our economic opportunities as we go forward," the governor said at a news conference on Wednesday.

Critical to it is continued diligence in following public health guidelines, said Natalie Gochnour, the director of the University of Utah's Kem C. Gardner Institute and one of the plan's authors.

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Click here to read the full "Utah Leads Together 3.0" document

"The most important thing we can do is follow the color-coded health guidance that returns this economy to normal," she said.

The plan takes on more to help Utah recover. Gochnour noted that we are doing better than other states with our unemployment levels already declining. She estimated 70% of those who are unemployed were furloughed, meaning they have a job to go back to eventually. But others will need more training.

"Utah Leads Together 3.0" also emphasizes more help for communities still at risk -- elderly, immunocompromised and minority populations.

Byron Russell, who co-chairs the governor's COVID-19 multicultural subcommittee, said there would be an increased effort to
"make sure those who are most exposed are getting treated and tested." He pointed out that Hispanic/Latinx, Pacific Islander, Black and Asian communities are seeing higher cases of novel coronavirus and called for funding to help fix health and social disparities.

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It was welcome news to Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, who has been part of a group of community organizers who have been putting together testing events to reach out to minority communities.

"Many of these individuals are essential workers. They’re the front line. They’re the reason why some of us who are privileged have the privileges we have," she said Wednesday.

Rep. Romero, who represents a district that has some of the highest case numbers of COVID-19 in the state, said many don't have the option to stay home or self-isolate and are increasingly at risk for contracting the virus.

"They’re the reason we can go grocery shopping. They’re the reasons why our buildings are clean," she told FOX 13. "They’re the backbone of our state and we need to make sure we’re doing everything we can to protect them."

Gov. Herbert felt overall the news was good. While Utah has yet to see declines in COVID-19 cases, he said the health care system has not been overwhelmed.

He announced that Summit and Wasatch counties had requested to move from the "orange" or moderate risk level on the state's color-coded chart to "yellow" with much of the state. The request was being evaluated by the Utah Department of Health. Summit, Grand, Wasatch counties and Salt Lake City, West Valley City and Magna remain "orange" because of higher COVID-19 cases.

Dr. Angela Dunn, the state epidemiologist, told reporters on Wednesday that she was concerned that the St. George area was seeing an increase in cases and it was not because there was more testing.

"It is kind of that point we’re asking the community to be a little more diligent in terms of social distance recommendations and health guidance because there is the potential for a surge in southern Utah at this point," she said.

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Asked by FOX 13 if he had a time table of when the state might recover enough to move to a "green" risk level, Gov. Herbert suggested it would not be soon.

"We will let the data drive us," he said. "We originally thought it would take us a lot longer to get to where we're at today with low risk, mostly yellow. We still have some areas we need to work on and are concentrating on, working in collaboration with local governments to address those hot spots. But I hope we're surprised again. I hope we do this quicker than the next eight weeks."

The governor urged Utahns to continue to practice social distancing, wearing face masks in public and good hygiene to help slow the spread of COVID-19 to aid in the state's re-opening.