SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert further explained an executive order that he signed Wednesday, saying that it was done in an effort to find the perfect balance in reopening aspects of Utah’s economy while limiting the spread of COVID-19 in the state.
The order, which lasts until June 5, came with the release of "version 4.5" of the state’s phased guidelines for the general public and businesses. Herbert said it enhances recommendations to follow health guidelines even as Utah has loosened restrictions for most places in Utah.
After the governor signed an executive order Friday afternoon, Grand County, West Valley City and Magna joined nearly the rest of the state in Utah's yellow, or low-risk phase. Only Salt Lake City and the San Juan County communities of Bluff and Mexican Hat remain orange, or moderate-risk.
"This is a slow, methodical process so the emergency order helps us be more methodical and base our decisions on the gathering of information and data, so that we do this right," Herbert said. "We don’t want to open the economy too fast; we don’t want to open too slow. We’re trying to find that just the right balance point. I think we’re doing a pretty good job of that actually."
Herbert’s order states individuals or businesses should comply with the phase they reside or work in. Regardless of what phase that is, it also states that people should use a face covering "as an order with respect each individual acting in the capacity as an employee of a business when the individual is unable to maintain a distance of 6 feet from another individual; and each individual in a health care setting; and as a strong recommendation with respect to any individual."
So what exactly changed from the previous "version 4.4," which was created on May 15? Most of the recommendations are the same in both documents. There were some tweaks; for example, the recommendation for businesses under the yellow phase went from "all businesses open" to "all businesses operational if they can meet and adhere to all guidelines."
Guidelines for businesses didn’t change much. They include employers taking "reasonable precautions," providing accommodations for high-risk employees, minimizing face-to-face interactions in the workplace, having employees and customers wear face coverings when they aren’t able to remain 6 feet apart and having everyone follow good hygiene practices.
Another noticeable change is that it adds higher education to the guidelines. The change happened at the same time that most universities said they plan to return to in-person classes for the fall semester.
These new guidelines include:
- Campuses may be open for in-person students and faculty with increased cleaning and hygiene regimen under the yellow phase; classes are limited to distance learning in the orange phase. All symptomatic employees and students should stay off-campus, self-isolate or quarantine if on campus during the yellow and orange stages.
- Under the yellow phase, universities should monitor the symptoms of employees and students. Masks and face coverings will be determined by the Utah System of Higher Education with consultation from state officials; however, universities should have hand sanitizer made available for faculty and students in every classroom or regular hand washing routines in place.
- Students should also sit 6 feet apart where possible and institutions should record attendance and seating location to help with contact tracing under the yellow stage.
- Universities with residential campuses should provide isolation or quarantine facilities for students showing symptoms or have tested positive; common areas in dorms may be open but should be cleaned and disinfected frequently.
- Campus visitors will be notified of COVID-19 prevention guidelines on campus under the yellow phase.
The new document also states that K-12 school activities, such as sports, were allowed to resume under the jurisdiction of district and school authorities and "in adherence to indoor and outdoor guidelines" beginning noon Wednesday in the low-risk, yellow phase. Other events like assemblies, graduations, dances, recess and cafeterias are still set to reopen at the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year under the yellow phase.
One new sports and recreational gym guideline is that a list or roster of athletes or participants and their contact information must be maintained for any competition. These rosters will be used to help contact tracing efforts if someone who competed in a competitive event falls ill.
The state’s guidelines on event sizes also changed. The previous document stated that an event can exceed 50 individuals "if organizational oversight can be provided that ensures guidelines are followed" under the yellow phase. The new document adds to that section: "Formal organizations will complete event management template. This document must be kept and available for inspection by the local health officer or designee."
"Organizations are encouraged to utilize the Healthy Together mobile app to help contain the spread of COVID-19 among its employees and patrons," the update continues.
Herbert hesitated Thursday when he was asked if Wednesday’s executive order gave him better enforcement of the guidelines. He explained the state and the state health departments and feed information and guidelines to the local health departments, which make the decisions on various things.
"Sometimes when we have these issues where they seem to be in conflict, it’s the local health department that has to decipher whether the people trying to get a permit for an even — for example — are following the guidelines put and place and whether they can be sanctioned and given a permit," Herbert said, referencing a recent decision by Tooele County health officials to cancel a controversial concert that was to be held on Saturday or Lagoon opening up with the help of Davis County health officials.
"They work closely with local elected officials to make that happen," he said. "That’s the way the system is supposed to work. Enforcement has to be at the local level."