SALT LAKE CITY — Cultural events and activities in much of the state will now be allowed for up to 3,000 people indoors and up to 6,000 people outdoors, even as much of the state remains in the “yellow” or low-risk phase it has been since late May, state leaders announced Thursday.
But state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn urged that social distancing and wearing of face coverings are still recommended, and will be throughout all of the color-coded guidance phases, including green.
“We’ve asked a lot of everybody,” Dunn said. “We’re not at the end yet.”
Meanwhile, some communities and even one county in Utah will decrease restrictions brought on by the ongoing global pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus.
The change will be done “in a slow and measured way,” Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said after announcing that Kane County in southern Utah will move into the “green” category, where a “new normal” has been achieved, as outlined in the state’s economic recovery plan, Utah Leads Together.
Bluff and Mexican Hat, which have stayed in the higher-risk phase for a while longer than the rest of the state, will move to yellow starting Friday, Herbert said.
“We’ve shown as a state that we can slow the spread of coronavirus and still activate the economy,” he said Thursday, adding that accomplishing all of it “is a balancing act.”
Kane County, which is home to about 7,800 Utahns, has reported just four cases of COVID-19 since the first cases were diagnosed in Utah in mid-March. Nearby Garfield County also has four cases and Beaver County has not reported any cases of the novel coronavirus, according to the Southwest Utah Public Health Department.
There were 388 new cases of COVID-19 reported throughout Utah on Thursday. The total number of people with a confirmed diagnosis in Utah is now 13,252. There have been 131 deaths, including three new deaths reported Thursday, due to complications caused by the widespread virus, the Utah Department of Health reports.
“There are some communities within the state being hit harder than others ... but, by and large, we are seeing an increase in cases throughout the state,” said Dunn. She said social distancing “comes naturally” in some parts of the state.
“We need to learn to live with this virus,” Dunn said. “And that means we all need to learn to physically distance, wear face coverings when physical distancing isn’t possible, stay home when ill and continue to practice good hand hygiene.”
Continued adherence to recommended guidelines, she said, will assist to limit the spread of disease and particularly help people who are more vulnerable to severe illness caused by the novel coronavirus.
Anyone older than 65 and/or who has an otherwise already compromised immune system is advised to stay home whenever possible and exercise caution going out in public, avoiding unnecessary trips.
Among the three new deaths reported Thursday are a Salt Lake County woman over age 85 who was a long-term care facility resident, a Salt Lake County man between 60 and 85 who was hospitalized at the time of his death, and a younger Utah County man between age 18 and 60, who also died at the hospital, according to the health department.
The state has tested more than 254,668 people so far, with an overall positivity rate of 5.2% among those tested, but Dunn said that rate has almost doubled over the past two weeks.
In the weeks leading up to Memorial Day, she said, the percent of positive tests hovered around 4 to 4.5%. In the last two weeks, however, positive results jumped to a 7% weekly average and to 10% positivity in the last week.
Until there is a decrease in the number of new infections in more places throughout the state, Herbert said the “yellow” phase will have to stand.
“We all want to return to a new normal, to green, with less restrictions,” he said. “Nobody wants to have that happen quicker than me.”
Three months of restrictions, Herbert said, “seems like three years.”
He said only the data will dictate when restrictions can be lifted, and right now, it remains unknown whether the increase in cases is due to fewer restrictions or more people not taking the public health recommendations seriously.
“I think it is wise to take a pause, certainly in the more populated areas ... to watch and monitor this closely,” Herbert said.
“It is easy to become lackadaisical and complacent. It looks nice outside. I can’t see the virus. It’s great to be outdoors and we get back to our old habits, which is understandable,” he said.
“What we’re saying to people is: This is serious. Most people believe it’s serious. We’re also asking something that is a little hard to do and that is to change your habits. Change how you interact with people. Wear the mask when you can’t have social distancing — as a precaution for yourself, but also to not spread it.”
The latest breakdown of Utah cases, hospitalizations and deaths by health district:
- Salt Lake County, 6,776; 553 hospitalized; 87 deaths.
- Utah County, 2,444; 128 hospitalized; 19 deaths.
- Bear River (Box Elder, Cache, Rich), 878; 30 hospitalized; 2 deaths.
- Southwest Utah, 718; 54 hospitalized; 4 deaths.
- Davis County, 620; 53 hospitalized; 4 deaths.
- Summit County, 442; 40 hospitalized; 0 deaths.
- Weber-Morgan, 423; 46 hospitalized; 8 deaths.
- San Juan County, 343; 33 hospitalized; 5 deaths.
- Wasatch County, 341; 15 hospitalized; 2 deaths.
- Tooele County, 158; 10 hospitalized; 0 deaths.
- Central Utah, 54; 5 hospitalized; 0 deaths.
- Southeast Utah, 28; 0 hospitalized; 0 deaths.
- TriCounty (Uinta Basin), 27; 1 hospitalized; 0 deaths.