SUMMIT COUNTY — The rumor mill is churning as Summit County residents gear up for a stay-at-home order effective once the clock strikes midnight Thursday into Friday.
Police checkpoints, deputies performing house checks and a complete, countywide lockdown are among the misinformation the Summit County Sheriff’s Office is trying to put to rest.
“No, you’re not locked in your house. No, the sheriff’s office isn’t coming around and checking to see if you’re home. No, the sheriff’s office is not making traffic stops to see where you’re going and why,” said Summit County Sheriff’s Lt. Andrew Wright. “That is not what our function is as far as the order goes.”
On Wednesday the county was the first in Utah to issue a stay-at-home order, requiring “all residents to stay at home and cease non-essential travel and operations.” The order is a response to Summit County’s high number of COVID-19 cases which, per capita, is higher than any other county in the state and according to Dr. Rich Bullough, Summit County health director, rivals some of the hardest hit areas of New York City.
As it stands, the order will be in effect until May 1, although county officials will review it after 14 days and could end, extend or modify it.
Let’s stop the rumors! Sheriff Justin Martinez clears up some rumors going around our Summit County, Utah community. Thank you for your help in stopping the rumor mill! #stoptherumorspic.twitter.com/plxBZIAm4c— Sheriff Justin (@SummitCountySO) March 26, 2020
Within hours of the announcement, Wright said his department’s dispatch was flooded with residents concerned about police enforcing something that resembles martial law.
“I’ve spent all day long answering emails, phone calls and social media questions about what exactly this means,” Wright said.
On Thursday Summit County Sheriff Justin Martinez reminded residents on Twitter that they can still leave their home to work in another county, go to the grocery store, do yardwork, and go on drives, walks, runs, hikes and bike rides. The post also asked Utahns living outside of Summit County to stay in their own city or county to recreate.
“People assume the order means they’re being locked down and can’t leave their home,” Wright said, pointing out that exercise is still an essential activity. “We want people to stay healthy.”
But in the same breath he reminded residents to practice social distancing while on the trail or bike path, and not to overcrowd trailheads.
If residents violate the order, they could be charged with a Class B misdemeanor.
“We will handle this on a case-by-case basis,” Wright said. “If one of our deputies sees a blatant violation, such as 25 people gathered at the park having a picnic together, that’s obviously a violation of the health order and we will enforce that.”
On Thursday, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall and County Mayor Jenny Wilson both threw their support behind a similar order, although both mayors said they would prefer to move ahead in conjunction with the state.
“I believe a stay-at-home order is likely necessary to avoid overburdening our hospitals,” Wilson said in a prepared statement. “But a decision like that is best done in coordination with the state of Utah, our neighboring counties, and our municipalities.”