Summit County health officials confident in lifting stay-at-home order Saturday
In their strongest statements on the subject yet, Summit County health officials Monday indicated they would begin easing business restrictions in a new order set to take effect Saturday, relying on data from a recent surge in testing that shed more light on COVID-19’s path through the county.
“We do believe that the actual prevalence of COVID has gone down in our community,” said Rich Bullough, Summit County health director, at Monday’s Board of Health meeting. “Summit County, relative to the rest of the state, is doing quite well. … We’ve waited and waited and waited to see a figure like this.”
The stay-at-home order currently in place is set to expire at 11:59 p.m. Friday, and officials anticipate passing a new joint public health order Friday that would take effect Saturday. That order, Bullough said, would likely lift the stay-at-home mandate, limit public gatherings to 20 people and include detailed protocols for how certain businesses could begin to reopen.
It would not be business as usual Saturday morning, however. Social distancing measures would still be in place and many businesses will likely need time to enact the safety protocols required by the new order, like buying sanitization supplies and training and rehiring staff.
“It’s irrelevant what phase we’re in. If this stuff is in the community, I’m going to be 6 feet away,” Bullough said of the need for continued social distancing.
It is imperative the community doesn’t reopen too quickly and cause a spike in cases that overwhelms the health care system, officials said. Hospital visits can occur two to three weeks after a surge in cases, so adequate testing will be crucial to judging the effects of reopening the economy.
It is up to the Health Department to evaluate proposals from approximately 35 business sectors about how to operate safely amid the pandemic, and officials indicated not all industries will be in the first group allowed to gradually reopen.
Bars and nightclubs, for example, are not anticipating they’ll be allowed to reopen in the new order, according to Junior Richard, who is the general manager of The Cabin and a representative of that business sector working with the county to craft the restrictions in the new public health order. Richard said if they do reopen, it would likely be in a capacity similar to a restaurant.
Officials indicated libraries and summer camps would probably not be included in the first phase of reopening, either. For libraries, the cost of sanitizing books might make opening untenable, and summer camps are waiting to craft proposals until they receive direction from federal officials that’s expected in the coming weeks, said Phil Bondurant, deputy health director.
Bondurant said the new order would be reevaluated May 15 and that industries that initially aren’t included will likely be included in future health orders or as an outcome of the appeal process.
The new order is timed to coincide with, and is largely based on, Gov. Gary Herbert’s plan for reopening the state, Bullough said, adding that Summit County officials have not been pressured to accept the plan by state authorities. The county original eyed reopening businesses in the middle of the month, but later pushed up the date, matching the governor’s May 1 timeline.
“I’m not saying this with any pressure or any words in my mouth: This is the time to ease,” Bullough said. “I’m quite comfortable saying we’ve knocked this stuff down in Summit County pretty significantly.”
Bullough said that conclusion is based on public health data. He shared results from last week’s testing surge when, over six days of testing, more than 3,400 Summit County residents were tested. Less than 1% of the tests came back positive for COVID-19, a drastic reduction from the 20%-30% rates of infections the county saw in the initial weeks of testing.
He contrasted that with Utah County, which Bullough said did not take swift action to fight the pandemic.
“They’re going through the roof,” Bullough said. “They are a county that had relatively little restriction. They have not issued stay-at-home orders. The recommendations they’ve issued have been not enforced and (are) not very proactive in my view. That’s the consequence of it.”
The apparent progress seen in Summit County has allowed the Health Department to widen its focus to other potential issues, including how to handle workers commuting into the county from nearby Salt Lake, Wasatch and Utah counties. Around 70% of Summit County’s workforce lives outside the county, according to county data.
Bullough and Summit County Councilor Kim Carson, who is the council’s liaison to the Board of Health, said a regional outlook is key.
Halfway through Monday’s Board of Health meeting, Bondurant said he had received proposals about how to safely reopen from all 35 business sectors invited to participate in the county process, ranging from faith-based organizations to fitness centers.
Bondurant anticipated a long night working through the proposals along with Environmental Health Director Nate Brooks, Behavioral Health Director Aaron Newman, Bullough and other Health Department officials.
Bondurant said proposals that are not accepted could be appealed. The Health Department had heard 13 appeals to the previous orders, Bondurant said. A dozen were handled internally and one, regarding third-party delivery services like Grubhub, was heard by the Board of Health.
Carson said the anticipated new health order is not a return to normalcy. She said that, while the county has apparently successfully flattened the curve of new cases, there is work yet to be done.
“(It) doesn’t mean you’re safe when you’re in a group of 20, it means if those people end up getting exposed, and there’s an increase in the positive cases, that our health care system will be able to handle that impact,” Carson said.
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