SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Gov. Gary Herbert’s announcement that the state will move into its “yellow” risk phase this weekend in the COVID-19 pandemic prompts the question: What does that really mean for Utahns?
The Utah Leads Together 2.0 plan lays out guidelines as the state moves into each risk phase. The yellow, or low-risk phase, goes into effect Saturday for every area of the state except Salt Lake City, West Valley City, Grand County, Summit County and Wasatch County, which all remain in the “orange” or moderate-risk phase. Magna was added to that list Friday evening as Herbert officially issued the executive order.
The relaxed guidelines also don’t apply to high-risk groups, including older adults and those with serious underlying medical conditions. They are asked to continue taking extreme precautions and avoid nonessential travel.
Hispanics and Latinos are also included in the groups considered at high risk, as they account for 37.9% of the state’s cases while encompassing just 14.2% of the population.
“Among all Utahns, 0.56% of Hispanics/Latinos are infected, while the average statewide infection rate is 0.21% based on testing to date. Large-scale field testing, which is in the process of being conducted, will provide a better understanding,” the Utah Public Health and Economic Emergency Commission, tasked with making recommendations in the COVID-19 battle, said in a statement Friday.
Much of what state officials ask Utahns to do in the low-risk phase remains the same — everyone should continue wearing face coverings in public settings where social distancing is difficult, practice strict hygiene and not offer handshakes, according to the plan.
But residents can now travel more freely throughout the state, as nonessential travel is no longer discouraged. Gatherings of up to 50 are also allowed, up from 20 people.
Out-of-state and international travel should stay limited, state officials say, with those returning from trips to high-risk areas defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged to quarantine for 14 days.
Team sports will also resume, though spectators must maintain social distance. Swimming pools can open so long as people don’t congregate in large groups.
All businesses that had been closed due to the pandemic can now reopen, except for those in the excluded areas. The plan:
- Encourages employers to allow for “flexible working arrangements” such as rotating shifts and remote work. The phase places less emphasis on the need for remote work.
- Loosens restrictions on in-restaurant dining. Contactless payment and “extreme caution” are no longer urged by the state.
- Asks retail and grocery store managers to “exercise discernment” in creating a safe environment, removing the need for managers to provide frequent reminders about hygiene to staff.
- Allows hotels to resume offering self-serve buffets. Hotel employees are no longer required to wear face coverings, but continued precautions must be taken in shared spaces.
- Removes the recommendation that gyms and fitness centers remain closed. They can safely open, according to the state, with “specific space and cleaning supply guidance.”
- Allows home repair and construction businesses to no longer reduce group interactions.
The low-risk phase does not affect event and entertainment venues, child care, and personal services such as salons, which remain under the same guidelines as they did in the moderate-risk phase.
Entertainment venues must practice strict social distancing, while salons and other personal service businesses remain under strict hygiene orders, with clients and workers wearing face coverings. Child care businesses are required to continue enhanced cleaning and distancing protocols, and to exclude symptomatic children from entering the facilities.
Salt Lake County on Friday evening announced when its public parks and recreation facilities will reopen, with the exception of those in Salt Lake City, West Valley City and Magna.
Playgrounds, dog parks, pickleball courts, skate parks, open fields, paths and trails, as well as their restrooms, will open Monday. Meanwhile, pavilions and athletic fields will open May 23. Some recreation centers will open June 1. Officials hope to open public pools in the county July 1.
“In order to ensure the safety of patrons and staff, each recreation facility will be operated under new modified operating procedures in compliance with current state health guidelines. All parks and recreation amenities will be subject to social distancing guidelines and dependent on the local status in the state’s plan,” county officials said in a statement.
Cities offering antibody testing
As Utah continues reopening the economy, officials and experts have said antibody testing will be key in understanding how the virus has spread.
As part of that effort, Bluffdale, Draper, Riverton and Vineyard officials on Friday announced the cities are sponsoring antibody testing for residents through a private company, Utah-based RapidScreen Solutions.
“We believe a central component to beating COVID-19 is to test our residents. We need to know our true infection rate so we can take actions to limit spread, conduct contact tracing and make future data-driven public policy decisions. We invite all our residents to consider being tested for COVID-19 antibodies as we continue to battle this virus,” the mayors of the four cities said in a joint statement.
The Utah Department of Health is not, and likely will not, take a position on the program offered through a private company or any like it, said spokesman Tom Hudachko.
“We don’t have the bandwidth to research all of them,” he said.
Antibody tests still come with an unknown false positive and negative rate, experts have said. Because it’s also not yet known if and how long someone might be immune to the virus after contracting it, state officials have said individuals can’t rely on results of antibody tests, but they will be informative on a population-wide level.
“We don’t yet know how to interpret the level of antibody. We can say with pretty good confidence at this point that we have some tests that are really quite powerful, they’re very accurate. None are going to be 100% accurate,” Dr. Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology with Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said Friday.
Studies are needed that follow those who have the antibodies over time to understand whether they get sick with the illness again or not, Mina said. Antibody testing will only be effective if those tested are representative of a whole population, rather than just sections of it.
The finger-prick test being used in the four Utah cities has emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration, officials said. It seeks two separate antibodies. Positive results indicate likelihood that a person had or has COVID-19, according to city officials.
The testing will take place in Draper on May 20 and May 26; in Riverton on May 21; in Bluffdale on May 28; and in Vineyard on May 29.
The cities are offering the tests for $69.99, which some insurance companies might reimburse. Interested residents can sign up at rapidscreen.as.me.
Utah reported two more deaths from the disease Friday, bringing the state’s toll to 77.
The newest fatalities include a Salt Lake County woman, described only as between age of 60 and 84, who lived in a long-term care facility.
The second was a San Juan County man between the ages of 18 and 59 who died while hospitalized.
In Utah, confirmed cases also rose by 164, bringing the total to 6,913. About 3,100 more people were tested, bringing the total to 163,218. The positive rate stands at about 4.2%.
Eight more people were hospitalized since Thursday — all in Salt Lake County — bringing the number of those currently hospitalized to 102.
The Beehive State has 3,719 who are considered recovered from the illness after passing the three-week point since their diagnosis.
The latest breakdown of Utah cases, hospitalizations and deaths by health district:
- Salt Lake County, 3,709; 327 hospitalized; 52 deaths.
- Utah County, 1,455; 85 hospitalized; 11 deaths.
- Summit County, 396; 34 hospitalized; 0 deaths.
- Davis County, 354; 28 hospitalized; 2 deaths.
- Weber-Morgan, 216; 28 hospitalized; 3 deaths.
- Southwest Utah, 200; 16 hospitalized; 3 deaths.
- Wasatch County, 196; 8 hospitalized; 1 death.
- San Juan County, 159; 18 hospitalized; 4 deaths.
- Tooele County, 86; 6 hospitalized; 0 deaths.
- Bear River, 84; 13 hospitalized; 1 death.
- Central Utah, 29; 2 hospitalized; 0 deaths.
- TriCounty (Uinta Basin), 16; 1 hospitalized; 0 deaths.
- Southeast Utah, 13; 0 hospitalized; 0 deaths.