Summit County officials say large gatherings unlikely through rest of the year

The Park Record.

This summer in Summit County may be unlike any other, as the pall of the coronavirus hangs over nearly every aspect of life, including the large events that highlight the season.

Park City’s Fourth of July festivities, the Park City Kimball Arts Festival and the Summit County Fair are staples of the summer months, but county officials say events that bring together large groups will likely look very different to account for the public health risks of the COVID-19 pandemic, if they happen at all. 

Already, the Tour of Utah and the Park Silly Sunday Market, two popular events that bring crowds to Park City, have announced the cancellations of their 2020 editions.

And on Monday, Summit County officials gave the strongest indications yet that gatherings of more than 50 people are unlikely to be allowed through the rest of this year.

We definitely want to be extremely cautious moving forward because one stub of the toe and our winter season will disappear faster than you can imagine,” Doug Clyde, Summit County Council

“The governor makes it very, very clear that there will not be gatherings over 50 until we’re at the new normal, green phase,” said Summit County Health Director Rich Bullough. “He also makes it clear that that isn’t going to occur until there’s a vaccine. So I would speculate that we’re well into 2021 before groups greater than 50 are going to be allowed. And that’s pretty much as clear as we can make it.”

The comments came during a Conversation with the Council event that included County Manager Tom Fisher, County Council Chair Doug Clyde and Councilor Roger Armstrong.

Fisher said events like large weddings likely will be unsafe for months to come.

“I don’t believe there is a safe way to do those types of events in the near future,” he said. “I think it’s incredibly risky to be planning a large 50- to 200-person event within the next three to six months.”

Bullough said that limiting crowd sizes helps with contact tracing, the process by which officials track and communicate with people who have recently come into contact with a person who has tested positive for COVID-19.

“It allows us to focus in on investigating and isolating positive cases. That was virtually impossible to do when there were literally hundreds of contacts to a single person,” Bullough said.

Carolyn Rose, the county’s nursing director, has said that the county’s contact tracing capacity was overwhelmed within days of the initial positive cases in Summit County and that the state had largely taken over that function.

Bullough said that limiting crowd sizes also helps preserve hospital capacity, as it reduces the number of people who would be exposed to the disease if one person in the group were infectious.

The county has put a moratorium on special event permitting until Sept. 1, but that does not apply in the county’s six municipalities. The Health Department’s latest public health order, however, covers the entire county, including cities and towns. That order, scheduled to be in place through June, bans most gatherings of more than 20 people.

Those seeking to hold an event involving more than 20 people may appeal the county’s public health order.

Fisher said the county would be open to evaluating creative solutions, but advised those seeking to hold an event to consider all aspects of how a crowd will inhabit a space.

“It’s not just having groups of 20 sitting 6 feet apart within the Eccles Center or at the Deer Valley hill for a concert — it’s everything else associated with it that’s the problem,” Fisher said. “It’s getting those groups of 20 in and out of the venue in an organized manner that they’re not crossing and contacting each other, it’s bathrooms, it’s food service.”

The county’s current health order is modeled largely on Gov. Gary Herbert’s Utah Leads Together 2.0 plan that is meant to guide the state’s reopening and recovery from the pandemic. That plan says a shift from the current moderate risk level to low risk may come after five weeks of a decrease in the growth rate of new cases. The low-risk phase allows groups of up to 50 people, but accompanying guidelines that pertain to events like concerts and rodeos require the number of people in a confined area be limited to enable adequate distancing and ban people from congregating.

It is unclear how the state would transition to the least restrictive, “new normal” risk level.

“Utah faces the likely reality of significant economic disruption until herd immunity occurs or a vaccine and treatment are discovered,” the plan states.

Bullough has said Summit County won’t see business as usual until there is herd immunity, which is achieved through widespread exposure to the disease or widespread vaccination.

Clyde said that, in the meantime, the steps the county is taking to restrict gatherings will hopefully prevent another spike in cases and necessitate further restrictive measures.

“We definitely want to be extremely cautious moving forward because one stub of the toe and our winter season will disappear faster than you can imagine,” he said.

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