Coronavirus hits Summit County: Emergency declarations, widespread cancellations as officials ramp up COVID-19 response
Summit County declared a state of local emergency and issued a local public health emergency Thursday as the second case of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, was confirmed in the county, a move officials said was preventive rather than reactionary and one that gives the county access to increased state and federal aid to fight an outbreak.
The third and fourth cases were announced Friday morning.
The county’s emergency declarations mirrored recommendations from Gov. Gary Herbert given earlier in the day, including limiting mass gatherings to fewer than 100 people and encouraging people who can work from home to do so. The county declarations also included advisements to cancel extra-curricular public and private school activities and that schools should prepare for the possibility of closure. Summit County’s three school districts remained open as of Friday.
Four known cases of COVID-19 were reported in Summit County as of Friday afternoon. The reactions have been sweeping and fast-moving.
Rich Bullough, the director of the Summit County Health Department, is the area’s local health officer and is empowered to take steps like closing schools and mandating quarantines, though he said the situation is far from requiring those measures.
According to the public health emergency declaration, the county’s recommended actions, like limiting gathering sizes, could become mandatory at the discretion of the local health officer. The declaration of a local emergency also provides County Manager Tom Fisher with authorities that include the power to transfer the direction, personnel or functions of any county department to perform or facilitate emergency services and to tap into and redirect millions of dollars of county funds toward the response effort.
Both declarations are in effect for 30 days, and Fisher was obliged by the county’s code to consult with the Summit County Council within 72 hours of the emergency declaration. He is also required to keep the council reasonably informed about the emergency.
The county wasn’t the only local agency or organization to take action Thursday. The Park City government also declared a local emergency and temporarily suspended non-essential programming, the Summit County and Park City libraries canceled programs, and many other local organizations canceled or postponed public events. While school districts stayed open, their sports teams were set to begin a two-week suspension of play Monday.
Summit County’s Justice Court, which handles class B and C misdemeanors and small claims of $11,000 or less, announced it would suspend operations until early April. A Summit County spokesperson said Judge Shauna Kerr would work with individuals who might be unduly affected by the closure, like out-of-state or foreign visitors, to resolve their cases before they might leave the area.
Park City Transit, meanwhile, said there was no plan to curtail service, but it was increasing precautions for its drivers and passengers.
“Park City Transit has stepped up daily cleaning of vehicles and facilities using EPA-approved disinfectant,” Park City Transit consultant Jerry Benson wrote in an email Thursday. “Drivers are practicing personal precautions as outlined by the CDC; such as, regular hand washing and staying home if sick.”
Benson added the district continues to monitor guidance from state and federal officials.
Less than two weeks before local political caucuses were scheduled to be held around the county, followed by county conventions, the Summit County Democrats were considering meeting remotely or expanding the primary ballot to avoid having to meet at all in the coming weeks. The state party announced it was canceling the in-person events at the state convention in late April. The Utah Republican Party announced it would postpone neighborhood caucuses and restructure the state convention.
The so-called social distancing measures like canceling or postponing events are being encouraged to stem the virus’ spread.
The goal, Bullough told the Summit County Council Wednesday, is to buy time until treatment becomes available and prevent the health care system from becoming overwhelmed.
“Let me address … why we’re taking public health precautions: It’s to delay. There is a vaccine on the horizon, we don’t know when. You don’t want that peak of (the number of cases) to occur before you have a clinical intervention,” Bullough said. “The community efforts — social distancing and cleanliness and events and everything else are intended not to completely prevent a broader outbreak but to delay that broader outbreak so that we have a clinical intervention at some point in time.”
National health officials have estimated a vaccine could take a year or 18 months to distribute.
Fisher said the emergency declarations came before there has been community spread of the virus in Summit County. Community spread has occurred when the source of a virus infection is not directly linked to a known cause like a previously confirmed case, Bullough said, and the individual has contracted the disease from within the community.
Bullough asked individuals to wash their hands thoroughly and frequently and to stay home if sick. He asked local businesses to enable their employees to work remotely or direct them not to come to work if sick.
The county’s emergency manager, Chris Crowley, has said the county has robust emergency plans in place, and Thursday’s declarations put into effect an emergency operations plan and activated an emergency operations center and an incident command system.
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