SALT LAKE CITY — Stay-at-home orders and directives issued by the state and local health departments will remain in place until at least the end of this month.
Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson told reporters at a news conference Thursday that she planned to lift her stay-at-home order on May 1.
"There will be no substantial changes in that order," Mayor Wilson said. "Which means we will continue our existing restaurant modifications. We will have specific business closures as we’ve already stated, those that cannot properly have social distancing."
Mayor Wilson said in an interview with FOX 13 earlier this week that she was contemplating having the order remain in effect until Memorial Day. But on Thursday, she said data was showing some positive signs. Still, she warned people not to let up on staying home, venturing out only when necessary, and practicing social distancing.
"We have to stay at it. Any slip slows us down," the mayor said.
Mayor Wilson's decision had support from Dr. Angela Dunn, the state epidemiologist for the Utah Department of Health. Dr. Dunn said the governor's office examined daily whether health restrictions should be lifted.
"We’re letting data drive our decisions just as Salt Lake County is doing. It’s important that individual jurisdictions be able to make those decisions based on rate of disease in their jurisdiction," Dr. Dunn told reporters.
Later in the day, Governor Gary Herbert announced his "Stay Safe, Stay Home" directive would be in place until the end of April. The governor said there were promising signs, even as case numbers continued to grow. On Thursday, the Utah Department of Health reported 1,976 positive cases of COVID-19 in the state out of 38,373 tests administered. There have been 168 people hospitalized since the beginning of the outbreak, but fatalities had not increased and remained at 13.
"The data that we have shows that what we are doing is working," Gov. Herbert said. "I’ve mentioned before the two weeks ahead of us are critical and that’s the same today. The next two weeks are critical. That takes us to the end of April."
The governor has been criticized for not enacting a statewide stay-at-home order, but on Thursday he argued that his directive essentially means the same thing (except it cannot close businesses by order and there are no criminal penalties for violations). He has allowed local health departments to issue their own orders and, to date, Summit, Salt Lake, Davis and the Weber-Morgan health departments have.
Those local health departments continue to evaluate their orders. A spokeswoman for the Weber-Morgan Health Department told FOX 13 they will decide in the next few days whether the order should be extended and for how long.
The governor said he was hoping to quickly move from the urgency phase of his COVID-19 recovery plan to one of "sustainability," focusing on fixing Utah's economy in the face of business closures and skyrocketing unemployment. In response to an inquiry from FOX 13, Utah's Department of Workforce Services said it has so far recorded approximately 82,000 unemployment claims from late March up to Thursday. In all of 2019, the state had 63,000 unemployment claims.
The governor warned that in order for health restrictions to be lifted, people must still avoid going out of their homes for unnecessary travel and, if they do venture outside, to practice essential social distancing (remaining at least six feet from others) and to wear a face mask. With Easter weekend, Spring Break and beautiful weather, the governor urged people not to travel around the state. He also urged people to not gather in groups if they go outside for a walk.
Failure to do so could mean a jump in COVID-19 cases and an extension of his directive, Gov. Herbert said.
When restrictions are lifted, Mayor Wilson said, it would be in phases to avoid a resurgence of cases. The governor echoed the mayor's remarks.
"Data really is what drives our policy," Gov. Herbert said. "We’re trying to make sure it’s not driven by emotion, by fear, by politics, the data should tell us what to do."