SALT LAKE CITY — Looking to other states that have taken more extreme steps like shelter-in-place orders to confront the global coronavirus pandemic, some Salt Lake County Council members are questioning whether Utah’s most densely populated county is doing enough to slow the spread of the virus.

“If we take forceful action now on the health front — whether that is shelter in place, a stay-at-home order, whatever we are doing to limit the interactions that we’re having in public and really get people to take that seriously — the sooner that we do that, that is the economic answer, right?” asked Salt Lake County Councilwoman Shireen Ghorbani, a Democrat, during the county’s virtual council meeting Tuesday.

“If you can stay at home now, we have a better chance of getting a handle on this faster,” she said. “Is that not correct?”

As counties in other states like California and New York have already issued shelter-in-place or stay-at-home orders amid rising COVID-19 case counts and death tolls, Ghorbani and other council members asked Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson if there’s more Salt Lake County could be doing to not only discourage, but prohibit social interactions in the heart of the Wasatch Front.

By not taking extreme actions now, Ghorbani wondered if that will just drag out the COVID-19 crisis in Utah and the economic upheaval that comes with it.

“What I’m afraid of,” Ghorbani said, “is if we take a bunch of half measures, and we keep taking half measures, does that not put us in a position where we’re depressing the economy because we’ve got more people getting sick, we’re stretching it out further, as opposed to taking seriously the recommendations that you’re giving now which are really ... ‘stay at home?’”

Leaders statewide have been urging Utahns to practice “social distancing” and voluntarily stay home as much as possible. Salt Lake County and Utah County last week had issued orders prohibiting gatherings of 10 or more people under penalty of a criminal offense based on a previous state order, but Gov. Gary Herbert swiftly repealed that provision, clarifying the state order is simply a recommendation rather than a prohibition.

Herbert, in a news conference Friday, said it was believed Utahns would “use good common sense” in applying the crowd limit, “not that this was going to become a police state and they were going to be prosecuted for any kind of violation.”

But, despite Herbert’s reluctance to go further than a recommendation, Salt Lake County may be doing more soon to discourage gatherings of 10 or more — with law enforcement’s help.

Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson speaks during a Salt Lake County Council meeting at the Salt Lake County Government Center in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, March 24, 2020. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Wilson told the council her team is currently working with the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office to draft order language “prohibiting” gatherings of 10 or more people.

“We’re looking at encouraging law enforcement within Salt Lake County, when they see egregious violations, to step in and give a verbal warning,” Wilson said.

If that warning isn’t heeded, officers would issue a written warning, then a citation for subsequent offenses, the mayor said.

“We’re asking that law enforcement at least have a toolbox to do that, and we’re recommending it,” she said.

As for a shelter-in-place order, Wilson did not rule that out — though she said county officials are using data they are gathering from county cases to influence that decision. That “modeling” — projecting case numbers and available Salt Lake County intensive care hospital beds — will be used to influence the decision in coming days, Wilson said.

“I suppose it’s possible once we get to the next phase of our modeling, which is just in the next day or two, we might be making a phone call to say we want to do something differently,” Wilson said. “We just have not had the critical, measurable factors to get us there yet.”

Wilson also said there is “concern” over a “total shutdown” and whether that would further aggravate panic buying and supply issues.

“If we were to go (that direction), we’re going to have some sense of panic in the community to take it to that next level,” she said. “We’re trying to be thoughtful rather than reactionary about some of these tougher calls.”

County Councilman Jim Bradley, a Democrat, said “everyone has a desire to get the economy going again,” and data from other countries have shown “cracking down” sooner rather than later can flatten that “curve” of COVID-19 cases.

“Other countries have shown that those who crack down, and crack down with extraordinary measures, tend to do better and get it over with quicker,” he said.

Bradley worried that if more Utahns don’t “take it more seriously,” more people will die and the economy will “suffer for a longer time.”

“It just will,” he said. “The quicker we can deal with this, and if you have to take extraordinary measures, more than what we’ve done, that may be appropriate.”

Wilson told Bradley: “I hear you.”

“And I don’t disagree,” she said, “but again we are fine-tuning a model, and I think we’re going to have a better inkling in two to three days.”

Wilson acknowledged there have been “mistakes” where people have not complied — pointing to mass gathering of families greeting returning Latter-day Saint missionaries at Salt Lake City International Airport on Sunday. State and city leaders discouraged those gatherings, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sent a letter Monday afternoon calling for better compliance.

By and large, however, the mayor said most Utahns are complying. And it will take time to see effects from orders restricting dine-in services and other steps already taken to limit the disease’s spread, she said.

Asked if Salt Lake County is currently considering a shelter-in-place order, Chloe Morroni, Wilson’s spokeswoman, told the Deseret News it’s still an option in the county’s arsenal.

“Nothing is off the table,” she said. “It’s a global pandemic.”

Gary Edwards, executive director of the Salt Lake County Health Department, told the council his team is trying to “bend the curve” of COVID-19 cases so the county doesn’t “cross over” the line of available ICU beds. He said health officials believe Salt Lake County is “somewhere in the middle” of suggestions for social distancing and a “mandatory shelter in place.”

“We believe that where we are will keep us below that line, which is where we need to stay,” Edwards said. “Then people say, ‘Well, when will we be able to relax those things?’ Well, we don’t know yet. We can’t do it too soon because we believe there will be at least another wave of illness. If we relax it too soon, then we risk going above that line with a second wave.”

Wilson said the next few days will likely be crucial for data collection and county modeling to decide whether more steps need to be taken.

“This team is committed to doing what’s right,” the mayor said. “And if we need to in future days take a more aggressive action, we’ll exercise our authority as we need to do.”

Wilson added “we hope we have the state’s understanding” of the “unique nature” Salt Lake County has as an “urban center,” and the county is willing to work with the state in a “collaborative spirit.”

“We will be in a position to act in the way that’s necessary to preserve lives and support the health of the community,” she said.