SOUTH JORDAN — As shuttered Utah businesses slowly begin to open up with social distancing guidelines amid the coronavirus pandemic, a local Christian church got creative to hold a Sunday service for worshippers.

“Our church has been dying to get back together,” said Pastor Ritch Sandford, of The Mission Church in South Jordan where members held an outdoor service in a parking lot.

“We’re glad to have the restrictions lifted enough that by following certain guidelines we can (meet),” Pastor Sandford said.

The Mission Church members worship in a “COVID-friendly” service in the church parking lot in South Jordan on Sunday, May 3, 2020. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

The parking lot gathering — where the church required social distancing between families — came the day Utah saw another death from COVID-19 and crossed the 5,000-case threshold in total number of positive cases reported.

The death of a Salt Lake County woman, who was between the age of 45 and 64 with a history of underlying conditions and was hospitalized, brings Utah’s total number of deaths from COVID-19 to 50, the Utah Department of Health reported Sunday.

Utah’s total number of confirmed positive COVID-19 cases rose to 5,175, an increase of 194 from Saturday and a daily rate increase of 3.7%, health department officials reported.

The new totals come just days after state and county officials dialed down Utah’s risk level from high or “red” to moderate “orange” and announced plans to begin re-opening shuttered businesses while encouraging social distancing and face coverings. It’s too soon to tell how the change might impact Utah’s case positive rate, which has been slowly declining over the past several weeks, officials have said.

The new guidelines permit churches to hold gatherings as long as they make appropriate accommodations — and for Pastor Sandford, that was a relief for him, his church and his fellow believers.

“We love this,” he said. “As Christians, we are eager to submit to government, and so when believers desiring to gather, as we believe the Bible commands for us to do, also have the command to obey government, so it (felt) like a conflict.”

Sunday, The Mission Church posted signs encouraging social distancing, required that families stay 6 feet apart and encouraged anyone who is sick or showing any COVID-19 symptoms or who is high-risk to stay home. Churchgoers also abstained from handshakes and hugging. Ushers helped ensure everyone followed social distancing guidelines.

The Mission Church Pastor Rich Sanford speaks during worship in a “COVID-friendly” service in the church parking lot in South Jordan on Sunday, May 3, 2020. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

“It was wonderful to have restrictions lifted so we can finally get back together, and people can have a freedom of conscience to know we’re honoring the government while still doing what God wants us to do in gathering,” Pastor Sandford said.

As of Sunday, 436 Utahs required hospitalization because of COVID-19, 18 more than reported Saturday, according to state health officials.

So far, Utah has tested 122,102 people, an increase of 4,298 tests.

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The state’s rate of positives among those tested remains at about 4.2%, still lower than many surrounding states, health department officials said.

Also as of Sunday, officials consider 2,283 people “recovered” — cases with a diagnosis date of more than three weeks ago and the person has not died.

A breakdown of Utah COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths by health district:

  • Salt Lake County, 2,707; 251 hospitalized; 31 deaths.
  • Utah County, 1,073; 58 hospitalized; 9 deaths.
  • Summit County, 376; 33 hospitalized; 0 deaths.
  • Davis County, 300; 23 hospitalized; 2 deaths.
  • Weber-Morgan, 167; 20 hospitalized; 2 deaths.
  • Wasatch County, 159; 7 hospitalized; 1 death.
  • Southwest Utah, 111; 13 hospitalized; 2 deaths.
  • Bear River, 62; 10 hospitalized; 1 death.
  • Tooele County, 71; 6 hospitalized; 0 deaths.
  • San Juan County, 100; 12 hospitalized; 2 deaths.
  • Central Utah, 24; 2 hospitalized; 0 deaths.
  • Southeast Utah, 11; 0 hospitalized; 0 deaths.
  • TriCounty (Uinta Basin), 14; 1 hospitalized; 0 deaths.

Contributing: Tanner Siegworth

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