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Salt Lake City mayor gives ‘force of law’ to stay-at-home directive

By Lauren Bennett, KSL.com | Updated - Mar. 28, 2020 at 1:47 p.m. | Posted - Mar. 27, 2020 at 6:58 p.m.



SALT LAKE CITY — If residents of Salt Lake City violate Gov. Gary Herbert’s new “Stay Home, Stay Safe” directive, which went into effect Friday, they could be charged with a class B misdemeanor, fined up to $1,000 and spend up to six months in jail.

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall signed a proclamation shortly after the governor announced the directive, giving local legal backing to the state’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” directive.

The state’s directive, which is not a shelter-in-place order, was issued in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mendenhall’s proclamation, making violation of the directive punishable as a misdemeanor, goes into effect Friday at 11:59 p.m. and will remain in place as long as the city remains in a state of emergency.

Mendenhall signed a state of emergency declaration on March 10. It lasts for 30 days, pending an extension by the Salt Lake City Council.

While violators of the directive could be punished with jail time, city leaders are encouraging voluntary compliance.

“Salt Lake City residents are urged to voluntarily comply with this proclamation and every effort will be made to educate people to achieve compliance,” the proclamation states.

Earlier this month, Salt Lake County released 90 inmates from the jail who were deemed to be low-risk, amid growing concerns about the novel coronavirus.

In a statement, Salt Lake City Police Department officials urge residents to stay home and strongly encouraged voluntary compliance as well.

“You will not be arrested for going to work on Monday,” police said in the statement. However, police said employers should transition to teleworking, if possible.

“Every effort should be made to telework. If that isn’t possible and unless they truly are essential to the functioning of society (food, medicine, infrastructure) or can operate with complete physical distancing, they shouldn’t be operating.”

The state’s directive will remain in effect until April 13 and urges all Utahns to stay in their homes unless leaving for essential purposes.

“The state’s action today, and my fifth proclamation, gives additional clarity on what is required — by both businesses and individuals — to truly flatten the curve,” Mendenhall said in a statement. “We are asking our residents to act with great care in this unprecedented time. Think not only about your own well-being, but about your neighbor’s.”

The state’s directive still allows Utahns to enjoy outdoor recreation and grocery shop so long as social distancing measures are practiced.

“You can still go outside, exercise at parks, hike on trails and go to grocery stores,” Mendenhall said. “Many of the businesses that we rely on every day will still be accessible.”

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On Saturday, Mendenhall took to Twitter to further clarify the city's stance on businesses remaining open. She hasn't deemed which businesses are "essential," she said, because she wants businesses to "make responsible decisions for their employees and the general public."

"Any business that cannot maintain appropriate physical distancing between customers, other employees, and the general public should only be functioning if they provide critical services," she wrote.

Mendenhall also reiterated that, although her directive carries the weight of law, the city is "not out to charge you criminally if you violate this Proclamation – we just want you to comply, be safe, and keep other residents safe."

As part of the measure, the Salt Lake City International Airport will close to any passengers without a ticket. Individuals picking up or dropping off passengers must remain in their cars.

Additionally, certain activities in city parks will be banned so long as the order is in effect. Facility rentals are banned and team sports cannot be played in city parks. The use of skate parks, playground and fitness equipment is also barred.

Recreational activities that promote social distancing are allowed in the parks, the measure states.

The mayor’s proclamation also limits the sale of cemetery plots to those who need to bury someone during the time the proclamation is in effect.

The governor’s directive, and Mendenhall’s proclamation, come just one day after the newly-elected mayor said she would take action in Salt Lake City if the state didn’t issue some type of “stay-at-home” measure.

Summit County, which issued a stay-at-home order on Wednesday, and Salt Lake County have been hit the hardest by the virus with 221 of the state’s 480 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Salt Lake County and 110 in Summit County.

So far, two Utahns have died of the disease.

Earlier this month Herbert denounced local governments enforcing health orders with criminal prosecution in response to Salt Lake County’s health order that declared violations of the new public gatherings limit could be punished as misdemeanors.

Herbert initially called for the repeal of the orders but later said communication hadn’t been ideal between the county and the state.

He also said he expects Utahns to "live within the spirit of the law" at this time, but does not feel the need to attach penalties to the rule. He left open the possibility that the guidance could be strengthened if there are flagrant violations of the rule.

Friday’s directive declared local governments can “impose more stringent directives and orders to address the unique situations in different areas of Utah.”

Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson said she supports the directive but asked Herbert to take stricter steps if necessary.

“While I agree today’s actions are a step forward, I had some concerns that the governor and state leaders were willing to accommodate,” Wilson said in a statement. “Therefore, I asked the governor and state leaders to prioritize immediate negotiations with counties outside of Salt Lake County to develop a common framework — especially counties that have major hospitals.”

Wilson said she has asked that "in the days to come, the state be willing to go further — immediately — if necessary. I have the commitment from the state that we will."

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