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Utah moves to 'orange' COVID-19 risk level, but not everyone is comfortable with it

SL County issues new health order
Posted at 12:23 PM, May 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-05 19:46:51-04

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah has officially moved to a lower risk level for COVID-19, allowing businesses to slowly re-open with strict guidelines.

Governor Gary Herbert's executive order moving the state from a "red" to an "orange" risk level went into effect at 12:01 a.m. Friday.

In downtown Salt Lake City, the bar Cheers to You re-opened and customers returned, toasting the loosened restrictions -- six feet apart. Bartenders wore face shields as they poured drinks. Macey Truett, who was one of the first to drink there, said she felt safe.

"It looks like they followed all regulations," she said, wearing a face mask. "There's definitely spaces where you can stand and can't stand, so I think they did a good job. I feel safe here."

But not everyone was planning to re-open right away. On social media, many restaurants, bars and gyms announced they would continue to remain closed out of concern for their customers and employees.

Across the state, cities and counties began rolling out new rules and regulations to slow the spread of the virus as businesses re-open. Salt Lake County, Utah's most populous county, issued its health order and a series of business-specific guidelines. Mayor Jenny Wilson's order was in effect until May 15.

Most of the guidelines heavily emphasize social distancing, face masks, hygiene and sanitation.

Read Salt Lake County's social guidelines here
Read Salt Lake County's guidelines for gyms and fitness centers here
Read Salt Lake County's guidelines for cultural, entertainment and sports venues here
Read Salt Lake County's guidelines for personal service businesses here
Read Salt Lake County's guidelines for dine-in restaurant service here

The governor's special task force on coronavirus also issued new guidelines continuing to urge people to take precautions.

But some public officials were still uneasy with loosening restrictions. Mayor Wilson said earlier this week she was being "cautious," and issued guidelines that were slightly more restrictive than the state of Utah.

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said she was concerned given the capital city's higher COVID-19 caseload.

"I’m not comfortable with the transition. That’s based on Salt Lake City zip code specific data," Mayor Mendenhall said in an interview with FOX 13 on Friday. "As we came to know it was going to happen earlier this week and met with the county health department and Mayor Wilson, that health officials told us basically there was nothing we could do short of closing our borders to our city for a prolonged period of time, which is not going to happen."

Mayor Mendenhall said given the 14-day lifespan of the virus, it would take a couple of weeks to see if there were consequences for lifting restrictions and hoped to see more of a stabilization in cases. She pleaded with people to follow health directives.

"I can’t stress enough how important it is to continue to take this seriously. Take every precaution you can. Please wear a mask any time you’re in a public space and stay home, if you can," the mayor said.

Gov. Herbert also urged vigilance said it was his hope that if people continued to follow the proper health directives, they could move from "orange" to "yellow" in a couple of weeks. However, he warned Utah could move back to red if things start to slide backward.

St. George Mayor Jon Pike told FOX 13 he's asking the governor and state officials to let his part of the state move to a "yellow" risk level sooner than everyone else. He pointed to smaller cases of COVID-19 in his community and escalating temperatures in southwestern Utah.

"This is what the Utah Leads plan contemplates is regional differences," he said in an interview Friday. "So we’re hoping to be considered for that because of our data and our differences."

The City of St. George has allowed its splash pads, city-owned pool and recreation center to re-open. Residents there were excited. The Southwest Utah Public Health Department issued new health orders on Friday loosening some of that region's restrictions.

"We’ve been in our homes for a couple months now," said Moises Ninamango, who was at the splash pad on Friday. "We still have to be safe."

Added Deanna Irvin: "There's a certain amount of give and take in this situation... obviously if you're sick, stay home."

At her daily COVID-19 briefing, state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn continued to urge vigilance and social distancing among Utahns as they start to see restrictions loosened.

"Even though we are opening pieces of our economy and society, those principles still hold. Especially for our more vulnerable populations, older adults those with underlying medical conditions, it’s important for them to maintain social distance even if they aren’t ill," she said.

Dr. Dunn said the state is preparing for a possible resurgence of novel coronavirus in the fall, coinciding with flu season. That could bring new restrictions.

"I think the challenging piece is going to be that element of social distancing," she said Friday. "Will we need additional restrictions come fall when, or if, we see a second peak?"