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Salt Lake City mayor wants state to issue stay-at-home directive — or she will

Not everyone supports idea because of economic pressures

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A few people are spotted on what would normally be more crowded downtown Salt Lake street on March 14, 2020. Salt Lake City officials want to follow Summit County in enacting a stay-at-home order to stem the spread of COVID-19.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The mayor of Utah’s capital city is pushing the state to issue a stay-at-home order to all residents to help stem the spread of COVID-19.

“Like many, I’m eager to issue a stay at home order,” Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall posted on Twitter. “But as a capital city surrounded by & relied upon by others throughout Utah, our efforts are only as good as the efforts of those around us. Moving ahead with the state will be more effective. If we can’t, I’m ready to act soon.”

The mayor said in a video message posted on Twitter she’s been “working hard” with Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson and other state leaders “to work toward this state mandate.”

“That is my goal,” he said. “If that can’t come to fruition, then Salt Lake City can take action alone as a city.”

However, Mendenhall said it would be “so much more impactful if we can act together.”

“That’s sort of the beauty of Utah,” she said. “When we do well as a state, it is when we are working together and we’re setting down the politics and we’re solving real issues by coming together. And now is the time for us to do that.”

Summit County on Wednesday became the state’s first county to issue an order requiring all residents to stay at home and abandon any nonessential travel until May 1. It takes effect at 12 a.m. Friday.

The Summit County order asks those with “secondary homes” to stay away and any tourists not to travel to the county. The current order allows residents to patronize grocery stores, gas stations, hardware stores, banks, post offices and health care facilities. All of those — along with farming, restaurants and essential transportation services — are considered essential.

More of Utah’s city, county and state leaders have been under increasing pressure to issue stay-at-home orders as the pandemic continues to spread. But officials are under economic pressures as well, concerned about further impact to businesses amid an already crippled economy.

On Wednesday, the Utah Academy of Family Physicians, which represents more than 1,100 medical personnel, called on local and state leaders to take “urgent action” on stay-at-home orders because the virus spreads rapidly and at times undetected, in part because so many who get sick have mild or no symptoms.

“We are gravely concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on the public and on practicing family physicians providing primary care in Utah,” the group said in a prepared statement. “We need to take these steps now to keep our health care system from breaking down under the strain of the coming surge.”

Last week, nine rural county leaders from Iron, Garfield, Uintah and Kane counties signed a letter to Herbert and Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox urging them to avoid taking actions that would further damage the economy and “stem the tide of fear and alarm.”

“We must look at these numbers critically and ignore the pandemonium and political pressure,” the letter stated. “We must do the right thing now or else we will extend this pandemic of fear deep into the coming months. Every action you take henceforth that disrupts our economy and way of life will do irreparable harm.”

Iron County Commissioner Paul Cozzens, one of the letter’s signees, told the Deseret News on Thursday, “I absolutely oppose enacting a shelter in place order for Iron County and have spoken to other surrounding commissioners that feel the same way.” He declined to say more.

Some Salt Lake County Council members during a council meeting on Tuesday expressed concerns that not enough has been done to limit the spread of the disease and shorten the economic impact of the virus, questioning if the county should issue a stay-at-home or shelter-in-place order sooner rather than later to shorten the economic pain.

Asked about a statewide stay-at-home order, Anna Lenhardt, a spokeswoman for Gov. Gary Herbert, said “discussions and analysis are still underway.”

However, Senate Majority Leader Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, told the Deseret News earlier Thursday he hasn’t heard that a statewide order was being discussed.

“No, but I worry about that,” he said. “Last time Summit was followed by Salt Lake then the rest of the state on restaurant closures. I hope we aren’t to that point yet. I really worry about the survival of people’s livelihoods in rural Utah. I am quite comfortable with the level of isolation we are at right now and would hope that the real threat would warrant any further action before that trigger is pulled.”

It’s not clear if or when a Salt Lake City or Salt Lake County stay-at-home order will be coming in absence of a statewide order, though Mendenhall said that timeline may hinge on what happens in the next “24 to 48 hours.”

“They’re rolling quickly, and I’m very hopeful that we’ll be able to come to some kind of consensus,” she said.

A statement issued by Wilson shortly after Mendenhall posted her video message offered few details, but said she supports a stay-at-home order.

“I believe a stay-at-home order is likely necessary to avoid overburdening our hospitals as early as April, but a decision like that is best done in coordination with the state of Utah, our neighboring counties, and our municipalities,” the Salt Lake County mayor said. “Today, I convened an excellent meeting with state leaders and hospital representatives to collect and compare data so we all can make the most informed decisions.”

Until officials have all that information, Wilson urged all Utahns to “rigorously” follow social distancing guidelines and frequently wash their hands.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is a critical and quickly evolving situation,” she said. “We are fortunate that Utah is a couple weeks behind much of the nation, so we can use what is happening in other areas to inform our decision-making.”

It’s also not clear what a Salt Lake City or Salt Lake County stay-at-home order would entail. Mendenhall did not offer specifics of what city or county officials are considering prohibiting and what businesses would be deemed “essential” and be allowed to stay open.

Contributing: Lisa Riley Roche