Pandemic has not hit Summit County’s East Side as hard as Park City, but officials say events and outside visitors could cause cases to rise
East Side residents of Summit County have seen far fewer cases of COVID-19 than their counterparts in the Park City area, with a population-adjusted rate nearly one-third that of their neighbors to the west.
But health officials warn the statistics don’t mean East Side residents are necessarily doing things right while West Side residents have failed. Rather, they say the case-rate disparity is likely related to how the disease entered Summit County in the first place, and advise East Side leaders to exercise caution when considering holding events that would draw outside visitors.
As of Monday, state Department of Health data indicated there were 361 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Park City area, with a population of about 30,000 people, and 55 in eastern Summit County, with a population of roughly 12,000. That yields a rate of 467 cases per 100,000 people on the East Side and 1,197 per 100,000 people in the Park City area. San Jaun County in Southeastern Utah has the highest rate in the state at 3,818 per 100,000 people.
On Friday, Summit County Health Director Rich Bullough shared internal data that broke down case numbers by zip code and indicated there were 21 cases in North Summit, 35 cases in South Summit and 356 cases on the West Side.
Bullough’s comments Friday came two days after Oakley voted to go forward with its annual rodeo, the first large event in Summit County — and one of the first in the state — to announce plans to continue through the pandemic. The rodeo organizers have called for unprecedented restrictions like limiting the crowd to 850 spectators.
Still, Bullough said events like the rodeo pose a risk to public health and imperil the relative low numbers of COVID-19 cases on the East Side. Such events provide the opportunity for people to mix and congregate and also might draw visitors from areas that have had less success containing the spread of COVID-19.
Bullough has spoken of the need for regional efforts to combat the novel coronavirus and noted the risk of travelers coming from places like Utah County that have taken less restrictive steps to curb the disease and have seen case numbers climb.
One of the less obvious dangers of reopening the economy, officials have said, is the large number of people who commute into Summit County for work. Officials have estimated that number at 70%.
But the area’s economy is largely based on tourism, and as the weather warms and more people seek an escape to the recreation areas in the Uinta Mountains, East Side businesses may see a steady uptick of customers from outside Summit County.
Bullough said it is still up to individuals to act with safety in mind to control the spread of the virus. He has described the recent shift from the orange-risk phase to yellow as a shift away from government regulation and toward personal responsibility.
“This is more and more about our personal behaviors and our personal choices and I want to reiterate that. It’s become controversial for some reason, I don’t understand that,” Bullough said. “That’s important. If you don’t feel safe in a place, a business for example, don’t go there. It’s up to us to determine what we need to do to protect our own safety and the Health Department can only regulate so far.”
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