SALT LAKE CITY — As Salt Lake County is again seeing a surge in COVID-19 cases — and reached its daily record for positives over the weekend — Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall on Tuesday requested to move the city back to the “orange” or moderate restriction phase in the pandemic.
“Our data’s continuing upward trend is alarming and swift action is necessary. The shift to orange should be a signal to Salt Lake City residents of the gravity of this situation,” Mendenhall said in a statement.
She said she hopes to “specifically target behaviors” that are leading to increased cases, including not always wearing masks.
“We’re putting them away ... when we’re at a backyard barbecue or going to a birthday party,” the mayor said. “That’s exactly when we need to be putting them on and that public health data shows us that it’s in these group settings, these social settings where we’re starting to see this spike really take hold. “
A move to the moderate restriction level would again limit gatherings to 20 or fewer people, but Mendenhall does not think businesses will have to close since most are already operating under health protocols that adhere to the orange level.
“This could mean a change to sports play, but that’s something that is a good example of what we’re looking to be responsive and adaptive with,” she said.
“We want to continually adapt and evolve necessary precautions to net the public health benefits we need, so that we can impact these numbers without unnecessarily putting burdens on city residents and businesses. We all need to stay safe to keep businesses open,” Mendenhall said.
She also noted that because of all that has been learned since the pandemic began, officials can be “more acute and surgical in the restrictions we put in place.”
Under legislation passed earlier this year, a municipality must seek permission from Gov. Gary Herbert to enact any additional COVID-19 restrictions that are more strict than the governor’s statewide orders.
The request needs to be approved by both Herbert and the state’s Unified Command team, which is tasked with making decisions regarding the pandemic, according to Brooke Scheffler, spokeswoman with the governor’s office. Herbert will meet with Unified Command on Wednesday, Scheffler said. She did not know how soon Mendenhall’s request could be approved.
On Tuesday, the county accounted for about 45% of the state’s new cases, with 325 out of the 716 cases confirmed across the state. The county hit its record cases on Sunday, with 652 new cases.
County Mayor Jenny Wilson also expressed concern about the rising case numbers, especially among older adults.
“Since schools started reopening in Salt Lake County, we have seen some significant and concerning growth in cases of COVID-19 among the 15-24 age group. Historically, these groups are less affected by the symptoms of the virus than older people, but they still are able to spread it to others at nearly similar rates,” Wilson said in a statement Monday evening.
She said that as infection levels in that age group have “leveled out,” cases in the 25-54 age group are now increasing.
“Simply put, young people can contract the virus and spread it to older people. Young people may not end up in the hospital, but older people will at higher rates. As a result, I am asking that we all double down our efforts at this time to continue social distancing and avoiding large gatherings, especially indoors. And when you can’t maintain consistent social distancing, either inside or out, please wear a face covering,” Wilson said.
Just under 70% of the state’s current COVID-19 hospitalizations — 145 out of 208 — are in Salt Lake County, according to county health department data. Throughout the state, hospitalizations jumped by 25 on Tuesday.
Utah County — which implemented a mask mandate after a large surge in cases when school resumed — has seen its cases begin to level out as it accounted for 28% of the state’s cases on Tuesday. But the county is still confirming “very high” rates of the disease, according to the state health department.
Voter views of pandemic
While Utahns largely remain divided over what, if any, measures need to be taken to stem the spread, a Utah Foundation survey released Tuesday found that public health as it relates to COVID-19 is among the top five issues for voters now across all demographics except for those who have lived in the state for between 21 and 40 years, and people with less than a bachelor’s degree.
The foundation also found that the pandemic was the most likely top issue for 25% of survey respondents. Some are more concerned about the pandemic than others, according to the foundation. The survey found that COVID-19 is the No. 1 issue for men in the state, but not for women, who were more concerned about other issues related to the pandemic.
“Members of the silent generation were the most concerned of any generational group about (public health/COVID-19 pandemic). This is unsurprising given that they are 75 and over, and the coronavirus poses a particular danger to their demographic,” the foundation said in a statement.
Meanwhile, 56% of the voters surveyed said they thought the state reopened its economy too quickly, while 44% said it’s been “too cautious in reopening.” While responses were largely divided along party lines, according to the foundation, 71% of moderate voters said they thought the state reopened too quickly.
“Utahns are united in their concern about the coronavirus,” Peter Reichard, foundation president, said in a statement.
“But the ideological differences on otherwise dry matters of public health strategy suggest politicization is oozing into yet another corner of American life,” he said.
On the topic of mask mandates, 42% of voters said they want one statewide, 21% said businesses should mandate masks themselves, and 29% said they prefer encouragement over mandates. The responses to that question were also divided along party lines, with liberal voters preferring a mandate and conservative voters preferring encouragement, the foundation said.
Those findings largely align with a Deseret News/Hinckley Institute poll in August that found 43% of Utahns believe the governor should require everyone to wear a mask in public at all times amid the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s compared to 36% who said individuals should decide for themselves whether to wear masks, and 18% who said they believe that decision should be made by local governments.
Utah health officials reported the 716 new COVID-19 of 9,421 tests on Tuesday, a 7.6% positive rate. It marked the first time in six days that fewer than 1,000 new cases were confirmed in the state.
The rolling seven-day average for new cases is 1,035 per day, and the average positive test rate is 13.8%
Six more deaths were also reported Tuesday — four Salt Lake County men and one Davis County men all between 65-84, and a Salt Lake County man older than 85. Three were hospitalized when they died, and three were long-term care facility residents.
Now 79,439 cases have been confirmed out of 875,601 people tested in Utah since the pandemic began, an 8.4% positive rate. The death toll due to the disease now stands at 488, and hospitalizations since the start of the outbreak total 4,058.
More than 58,500 cases are considered recovered after surviving the three-week point since their diagnoses, meaning about 20,400 cases remain active.
New COVID-19 cases reported Tuesday by health district:
- Salt Lake County, 325.
- Utah County, 201.
- Davis County, 51.
- Bear River, 42.
- Southwest Utah, 34.
- Weber-Morgan, 31.
- Wasatch County, 11.
- Southeast Utah, 6.
- Summit County, 4.
- Tooele County, 4.
- TriCounty (Uinta Basin), 3.
- Central Utah, 2.
- San Juan County, 2.