SALT LAKE CITY — Not even two weeks into the yellow “low-risk” level, a state official said the latest data on coronavirus cases is moving in the right direction for Utah to transition to the “new normal” level as early as June.
“We’re headed towards green because the data tells us that Utahns by and large are being responsible,” said Derek Miller, president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber and the chair of Utah’s COVID-19 Economic Response Task Force. “Moving from yellow to green is probably more of a step than when we moved from orange to yellow because green tells us we're getting to that new normal.”
Miller said when considering the change in phases, the state task force looks at the transmission rate, the state’s testing capacity and the number of hospitalizations. He said those indicators are moving in the right direction, noting that last week, “for the first time since the pandemic started, we actually had more people return to work than file new unemployment claims.”
“If Utahns continue to do well — like I said, I’m confident they will — I would expect that sometime in June we’ll be talking seriously about taking that next step,” he said, adding that he expected the state to make the move by the end of June.
The change would be welcome news for businesses in the hospitality and tourism industries.
“I think that it helps in that it makes it easier for businesses to operate,” said Cody Adent, executive director of the Utah Tourism Industry Association. “The hard part about the tourism industry, especially for hotels, is that once a day has come and gone the opportunity can never be returned.”
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In a survey of 489 of Utah’s hospitality and tourism businesses, Adent says 51% reported a drop in revenue in March, and 53% said they didn’t have enough cash on hand to make it 60 days on their own.
“Where we’re so deep into the season it doesn’t seem feasible that anyone will be able to recoup anything this year,” he said. “You’re just trying not to lose as much as possible.”
Tourism has picked up since Governor Gary Herbert lifted the restrictions on state parks, especially in southern Utah, and Adent believes the state is in a better situation than most to get back to normal.
“I think with people’s concern over highly populated areas — that Utah is positioned really well to rebound because I think what people want to do now is get outdoors and be outside and have that space. And there’s not a better state in the United States to go to have an experience like that than Utah with our five national parks.”
A move to the “green” phase would only help local shops around those parks recover.
Take those guidelines. Take those best practices and figure out how to make that work for your own business.
–Derek Miller, Salt Lake Chamber
“The itch to get out and explore still exists. I think they’re just waiting for the consumer confidence to feel like it’s appropriate,” Adent said.
Miller agrees. “It’s one thing for a business to be able to open its doors. It’s another thing for a consumer to walk through those doors. So, at the same time we’re helping businesses reopen, we also need to be increasing consumer confidence,” Miller said.
“Every business really needs to come up with its own plan. Take those guidelines. Take those best practices and figure out how to make that work for your own business.”
Regarding a potential change in the state’s risk level, Utah Department of Health (UDOH) acting executive director Gen. Jefferson Burton said earlier this month, “Decisions about risk status for counties and municipalities are always made using the most current data, and in consultation with local public health officers.”
“These discussions always begin with an overview of the health data and also take into account the local economic and governmental considerations of each individual county,” he said.
Decisions on which counties are placed in which risk phase are based on the totality of these discussions.
Conversations are ongoing, and county and city risk factors will be re-evaluated utilizing the same process over the coming weeks and months.