Last Friday, I issued a public health directive called “Stay Safe, Stay Home,” in harmony with our Utah Leads Together plan for overcoming the COVID-19 crisis. The directive establishes minimum statewide standards. 

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Local authorities, working in concert with the state, may impose more stringent directives and orders to address their unique local situations. Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County have taken that step.

Stay Safe, Stay Home emphasizes what you already know: that you and your family are safest when you stay home and practice rigorous hygiene standards. And it gathers into one clear directive the steps that I expect all Utahns will adopt in order to avoid infection.

This directive can be found at coronavirus.utah.gov.

Stay Safe, Stay Home permits common sense exceptions to staying home, like leaving for health and safety, for necessary food, supplies and services, for limited outdoor activity like walking your dog, riding your bike, jogging, and visiting parks that are open (although playground equipment should be off limits).

You can take care of your neighbor, your family, your friend, as long as you keep safe physical distance and practice strict hygiene.

Stay Safe, Stay Home asks individuals who are ages 60 or older or who have serious underlying medical conditions to take extra precautions. You are at higher risk of serious complications from the virus, so we need you to be especially vigilant about staying home and limiting visitors to those entering to address urgent needs.

It directs businesses to adhere to the best practices and the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about social distancing and hygiene in the workplace in order to keep workers and customers safe.

The two-week duration of the Stay Safe, Stay Home directive is critical. Strict adherence will allow Utah to move faster toward stabilization and recovery. Two weeks of strict adherence will allow us to ramp up our testing and tracing and will give us needed time to better coordinate the critical care resources that may be needed.

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Stay Safe, Stay Home puts greater emphasis on what you have been doing already, like “social distancing” (an unfortunate term that means maintaining ample physical distance in social settings). 

Utah’s families are finding creative ways to stay emotionally close despite new physical limitations. Utah’s teachers are inspiring student achievement in virtual rather than physical classrooms. And Utah’s businesses are innovating to keep employees engaged and customers served by adopting rigorous hygiene protocols and new ways of transacting business.

But this temporary “new normal” is not easy, and each of us need to reemphasize keeping physical distance from those outside of our immediate household and being strict about our personal hygiene.

Over these next two weeks we will also increase testing, tracing and data collection. This will inform our decisions. If we don’t see improvement in key indicators, it may be necessary to direct more stringent practices.

“... what is needed now is unity around these standards, not because we fear sanction, but because we know that our cherished way of life depends upon it.” — Gov. Gary Herbert

Two things set this directive apart from so-called “shelter-in-place” orders in other states. 

Those states have only allowed what they deem essential businesses to stay open; we have not tried to define what businesses are essential.  

Instead, we have emphasized telework where possible and strict social and hygiene protocols at all operating businesses. True, we have temporarily closed businesses where appropriate physical distancing is difficult to maintain and verify, but we have sought adaptation where possible (e.g., take-out versus in-person dining).

Second, Utah’s effort does not increase law enforcement penalties. 

Some have worried that a lack of penalties shows a lack of seriousness. I see it differently.

We already have plenty of fear in our community. Fear of a life-threatening infection. Fear of losing a job. Fear of the unknown.

Into this environment, I think it is counterproductive to introduce a whole new set of fears and uncertainties about legal compliance.

Democratic government is most powerful when it brings citizens together to do what is right of our own free will rather than through compulsion.

I am not saying that we will never need to use more compulsory measures. But based on what I know of your goodwill, what is needed now is unity around these standards, not because we fear sanction, but because we know that our cherished way of life depends upon it.

You will have questions. My answer will most often be, “Use your best judgement.” If you see behaviors that are inconsistent with this directive, kindly encourage your fellow Utahns to step up and do their part.

I expect all Utah residents and businesses to follow the Stay Safe, Stay Home directive. It is necessary to keep Utah residents safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. These unavoidable disruptions are a critical part of keeping us safe. Staying home now will show how much you care about others, help us move through this urgent phase faster and avoid greater hardship later.

Gov. Gary Herbert is the governor of Utah.