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Salt Lake City ready to move to yellow or ‘low restriction’ phase, mayor says

419 new cases, 1 new death announced Wednesday

Heather Wetch, Caleb Stepaniak and Marina Hays conduct tests as the University of Utah’s Wellness Bus conducts COVID-19 testing at West Valley City’s Centennial Park on Monday, Aug. 31, 2020.
Heather Wetch, Caleb Stepaniak and Marina Hays conduct tests as the University of Utah’s Wellness Bus conducts COVID-19 testing at West Valley City’s Centennial Park on Monday, Aug. 31, 2020.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake City will finally be joining most of the rest of the state by shifting on Friday to the yellow or “low restriction” phase of Utah’s color-coded health guidance system.

The move, however, does not imply that it is time to relax, said Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall. And it is subject to approval by Gov. Gary Herbert and the Utah Legislature.

“Shifting to yellow is not a return to normal. Masks are still required and critical. We are still asking you to maintain 6 feet of distance from others. We must maintain concerted efforts to sanitize and wash our hands. And high-risk individuals still must take additional steps to keep themselves safe,” Mendenhall said Wednesday.

Initially, it was reported that the switch would take place on Thursday, but 24 hours’ notice is required by state statute, should it be approved. So, it would take effect on Friday.

“We commend Mayor Mendenhall and her administration’s efforts in taking this important step to shift restrictions,” said Derek Miller, president and CEO of the Downtown Alliance and Salt Lake Chamber. “The mayor’s data-informed decision-making allows Salt Lake City to balance the financial health of its businesses while maintaining the well-being of its citizens.”

The move comes after 30 days of what the mayor said was “citywide downward trending COVID data.” The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends 14 days of declining numbers.

The highest COVID-19 impacted locations — including Glendale and other western Salt Lake neighborhoods — “have both seen an overall stabilization or reduction in the past 30 days,” the mayor’s office reported.

“While we’re encouraged by what we’re seeing in Salt Lake City, it’s important to remember there are communities in the city that are still experiencing an increased burden of COVID-19,” said Utah Department of Health state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn. “We will continue to work with those community leaders to decrease barriers to testing and to promote behaviors that will reduce the spread of COVID-19.”

Mendenhall’s approach has been one of caution, as she recently renewed the city’s state of emergency order, allowing her to draw upon federal funding to deal with the ongoing issues caused by the pandemic. The city’s next moves are outlined online at www.slc.gov/covid-19-next-steps.

Mask mandates are in place throughout Salt Lake County, as well as Summit and Grand counties, and in the cities of Provo, Logan and Springdale, Washington County.

Yellow guidelines include allowing social gatherings of up to 50 people. All businesses can open under the lowered restriction phase, including dine-in service at restaurants and swimming pools, as well as entertainment venues — though proper social distancing and wearing of face coverings is still recommended at all locations.

“While this is not a return to normal, a decrease in the level of restrictions means an increase in economic opportunity for downtown Salt Lake City’s 2,000-plus businesses,” said Dee Brewer, executive director at the Downtown Alliance. “We look forward to safely welcoming hotel guests, shoppers, downtown workers and patrons to the myriad of restaurants, bars and retail favorites that are open.”

The state website detailing levels of restriction states that “finding a new normal won’t be instant, like flipping a switch, it’ll be more like gradually moving a dial.”

Sevier County will also move to a lower restriction category — to the green or “minimal restriction” level, where many similarly rural counties have been categorized since mid-July.

The move to a lower restriction category brings with it fewer constraints, but doesn’t necessarily mean there is any less risk of contracting COVID-19, state health officials have said.

Other green level counties include Beaver, Daggett, Duchesne, Emery, Garfield, Kane, Millard, Piute, Uintah and Wayne. Everywhere else in the state is already operating under the yellow or “low restriction” category.

The health department on Wednesday announced 419 new confirmed COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of known infections in the state to date to 52,822.

It’s not the highest number of cases in the United States, by far, as some states, including California, Texas, Florida and New York have nearly quadruple the number of cases, but also have exponentially higher populations.

There have been more than 6 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country since the pandemic struck earlier this year, according to the CDC.

The state health department considers the majority of infections — 44,658 cases — detected in Utah as recovered, as more than three weeks has passed and they have not either been admitted to a hospital or passed away.

A Davis County man, older than 85, who was a resident at a long-term health care facility, was the latest victim of the disease, having died due to COVID-19. It brings the number of lives lost to the virus in Utah to 410.

The state has tested 668,425 people, an increase of 3,904 people from Tuesday.

The rolling seven-day average for positive tests is 376 per day, with a percent positivity of 9.1%.

A smaller number of people have been getting tested for the virus in recent weeks, likely due to less rampant disease, health officials have said, though it remains unknown how prevalent COVID-19 actually is.

To date, there have been 3,134 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Utah, and there are currently 128 COVID-19 patients being treated at hospitals throughout the state.

Correction: In an earlier version, the Utah Department of Health reported 4,904 new test results. Officials later corrected that number to 3,904.