Top health official advises against traveling to Summit County

The Summit County Health Department.
Park Record file photo by Tanzi Propst
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People concerned about whether they have COVID-19 are advised to call the Utah Coronavirus Information Line at 1-800-456-7707. 

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The county’s top public health official recommended Saturday that those who can avoid traveling to Summit County should do so.

The statement came in a Saturday morning press conference announcing the county’s first known case of community spread of COVID-19, in which the source of the virus was not immediately known.

“If you have the option to not travel to Summit County, it’s probably wise to not do so at this point,” Summit County Health Director Rich Bullough said. “We do have community spread.”

He added that the recommendation was not a formal restriction but rather a “prudent” course of action for people to follow.

Park City Mountain Resort and Deer Valley Resort remained open Saturday but their parent companies announced late in the afternoon plans to suspend operations beginning Sunday.

Ski areas around the country grappled with how to deal with the emerging outbreak. Vermont’s Jay Peak announced it would close for the winter season on Sunday, New Mexico’s Taos Ski Valley said it would end its season early and other resorts were shutting down or limiting the occupancy of enclosed lifts like gondolas and trams.

In Colorado, Gov. Jared Polis said Wednesday that that state’s ski country has been the site of community spread and advised reducing unnecessary travel.

“It appears the virus will be disproportionately hitting our resort mountain communities first,” Polis said at a news conference. “Of course we’re concerned about people traveling back and forth between those communities and metropolitan areas.”

He advised travelers 60 years or older or those with chronic health issues to avoid unnecessary travel to Colorado’s high country areas with the outbreaks.

In Aspen, Colorado, nine people tested positive for the virus after a woman they were traveling with tested positive after returning to Australia.

On Saturday, Bullough said Park City’s ski resorts have remained very engaged during the outbreak.

The health director said Saturday morning that he was not recommending the resorts close.

State Epidemiologist Angela Dunn of the Utah Department of Health said that there were nine Utah residents known to have COVID-19 and five tourists who tested positive for the virus while in Utah.

Officials gathered Saturday morning to announce the first case of community spread in the state, a development that Bullough said “changes the picture.”

Officials said that a person working the door at a Main Street bar, the Spur Bar and Grill, had tested positive for COVID-19 and that its source was not tied to travel or another known case.

Bullough said health officials were focused on contacting around 20 of the establishment’s employees for monitoring and said patrons of the bar would have only come into contact with the man briefly. Officials do not believe people who have patronized the bar are at high risk.

Bullough directed anyone who has been to the Spur since March 6 to monitor their health and, if they develop symptoms, to isolate themselves and call health care providers to determine the next course of action.

To avoid overburdening the health care system and putting clinicians at risk, officials have requested those who suspect they are ill to call health care providers so they can prepare for an in-person visit.

Officials: Call if sick

Local, state and federal officials have been working to contain the spread of COVID-19, including advocating measures to prevent health systems from being overloaded.

One of the most important measures, local officials have said, is for people who have flu-like symptoms to call their health care provider before visiting a medical facility in person.

“We want to make sure that folks who are exhibiting systems aren’t just wandering up to an emergency room,” said Chris Crowley, Summit County’s emergency manager. “We want them to go through the process and arrive at an emergency room or clinic that is prepared to see them.”

The person who had the first case of the virus in Summit County followed many correct procedures, officials said. He called a telemedicine arm of his health care provider, which allowed the clinic to prepare its staff to receive him. When he arrived, a clinician in protective gear collected a sample while he remained outside the clinic, effectively limiting exposure to others.

Health Director Rich Bullough said calling a health care provider rather than visiting lowers the risk of spreading the virus to other patients and, crucially, to the health care providers themselves.

We need to consider as a community, as a population of people, that one of our highest-risk populations are the caregivers. We cannot afford to have nurses and physicians out sick with this,” Bullough said. “Especially as the (number of cases of the virus in) community members increase, it is important that we take the actions individually to protect (health care providers). And so I think the process of not just showing up at a clinic is critical.”

Utah Coronavirus Numbers to Know

• Utah Information Line 800-456-7707
• U of U Health 801-213-2874
• Intermountain Health 844-50 1-6600


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