Summit County officials say distancing restrictions are likely here to stay for months
Summit County officials suggested Monday the community will be adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic for a long time to come, with staples of everyday life like buying groceries or going to church or school likely to remain abnormal and special events like the Summit County Fair or the Sundance Film Festival expected to be significantly changed if they occur at all.
Summit County Health Director Rich Bullough, in an interactive question-and-answer livestream Monday, said he anticipated an order from Gov. Gary Herbert this week or next that might transition parts of the state to the less-restrictive “yellow” stage. And he added that health data in Summit County is strong enough that it might be included in such a move.
While that would loosen restrictions and allow groups of up to 50, a return to normalcy would not happen until the community achieves herd immunity, according to officials.
“The early tests that we’re seeing from community sampling using antibody tests — anywhere from about 2.5% to 5% of the population appears to have been exposed to COVID. The very most liberal estimates of herd immunity are somewhere around 70%,” Bullough said. “The traditional public health definition is that 90% have antibodies, so we’re a long, long ways away from this without a vaccine.”
Bullough was joined in Monday’s session by Summit County Councilors Glenn Wright and Kim Carson and County Manager Tom Fisher.
Fisher said that it is too early for officials to make a decision about allowing events like Sundance, which is held in January, draws tens of thousands of visitors and generates tens of millions of dollars for the area’s economy.
“We’re not ready to say whether those events will be held or not and I wouldn’t want to get in front of Park City Municipal Corporation and their determination in those events,” Fisher said. “What is safe to say is that it will be very likely we’re acting differently in January around events than we are today, and I don’t know what that means yet.”
The Sundance Institute has said it is working with health officials as it makes preparations for the 2021 film festival. The organization says it is considering measures such as implementing social distancing in venues and other public spaces.
Bullough said that the health situation in Summit County is encouraging, with about 50 active cases, slow growth in new cases and a so-called R0 (pronounced R-naught) value of 0.5. He explained that means that one person infected with COVID-19 in Summit County is infecting 0.5 other people on average, meaning new case rates are declining.
The news is not as positive in some neighboring counties, Bullough said, which underscores the importance of a regional public health approach.
“One of my greatest fears of opening in-house dining and restaurants was the attraction for people coming from other areas,” Bullough said. “People may not travel to Daggett County to eat in a restaurant, but people do travel to Summit County to eat in a restaurant, to have the experience of eating on Main Street, perhaps. We are concerned about that.”
In normal economic times, Summit County imports about 70% of its workforce from neighboring counties, according to county data, and its economy is largely based on people traveling to the area.
While every municipality in the county has experienced COVID-19, Bullough said the East Side has seen fewer cases. Park City has had about four times as many cases as both North and South Summit and about double the number of cases seen in the greater Snyderville Basin, though Bullough cautioned that those were rough numbers.
He said the drive-through testing site at the Park City Hospital has seen declined demand, but that Intermountain Healthcare and University of Utah Health would keep it open until it “flat-out doesn’t make sense.”
The goal of distancing measures is still to flatten the curve and preserve hospital capacity, Bullough said, adding that any increase in case numbers resulting from recent reopening measures is not reflected yet in the data. Officials have said testing data is key to prevent a surge in cases that would imperil the health care system’s ability to treat patients.
The health director also said that the time spent interacting with another person is a key factor in spreading the virus, with less time reducing the chance of transmission. While it’s unclear whether a hoped-for lull in the summer months will happen, Bullough said people spending more time outside will likely slow the virus’ progress.
“The evidence is very, very clear that this stuff doesn’t spread very well outdoors and when people are outdoors it reduces the risk,” Bullough said.
The livestreamed question-and-answer events are scheduled on Monday afternoons and can be found on Summit County’s Facebook page.
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Park City Fire District Chief Paul Hewitt died Friday from injuries sustained in an off-duty accident earlier in the week, the agency announced.