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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's Public Health and Economic Emergency Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to recommend that most of Utah moves into a "smart green" phase regarding how areas of the state handle COVID-19 restrictions, officials said.
The vote came after the commission made modifications to the state's color-coded phased reopening plan. The changes it agreed upon were adopting a modified yellow phase and creating a "smart green" risk phase. The move, commission members picked by Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said, will allow nearly all businesses in Utah to activate a plan to open safely and reopen the state's economy that has been rocked by the coronavirus.
In a statement issued Tuesday night by the governor's office, a spokeswoman said the governor will take the recommendation into consideration. “We will review the recommendations from the Public Safety and Economic Emergency Commission and take them under careful consideration as we work to identify the best path forward to keep Utahns safe and informed," Anna Lehnardt said.
Last week the commission voted to recommend the governor set a goal to transition the state from the yellow, moderate risk phase of its Utah Leads Together plan to the green phase in most regions by Friday, June 5.
The commission’s vote comes as the number of statewide COVID-19 cases surpassed 10,000 on Tuesday, according to the Utah Department of Health. The numbers are based on when the coronavirus was first reported in Utah. An estimated 6,319 Utahns have already recovered, which accounts for the majority of the cases. Currently, 221,791 people have been tested for COVID-19, which means about 4.6% of people who have been tested in the state have tested positive.
But COVID-19 cases aren’t over. The state health department has reported 1,496 new cases since Thursday, which accounts for nearly 15% of Utah’s total confirmed cases. In all, there are 3,770 active cases of COVID-19 in the state with 108 Utahns currently hospitalized.
To date, the disease has killed 113 Utahns and hospitalized 801.
The commission said the new guidelines would allow nearly all businesses to make a safe reopening plan that will help boost the state’s economy. Some areas of the state would continue to remain in the higher-risk phases depending on what the data shows for those areas.
Utah will remain in a state of emergency due to the pandemic and residents are still expected to wear a face covering when in public during the smart green phase.
The idea behind the state following strict stay home guidelines was to prevent overrunning hospitals, the commission said in a statement. As of Tuesday, hospitalization in intensive care units (ICUs) across Utah hospitals averaged 61% capacity for COVID-19 and non-coronavirus beds for the past two weeks.
Positive COVID-19 patients in ICU beds have not exceeded 11% of the total capacity for the last two weeks as well, officials said.
“Hospital bed utilization rates are a primary indicator of the strain on the state’s healthcare capacity,” the statement said. “The criteria is to have ICU hospital bed utilization under 60 percent for 7-14 days.”
Commission leaders also said the changes don't mean that rules will return to what they were like prior to pandemic-related closures that began in mid-March.
“We emphasize that green is not pre-pandemic,” Sen. Dan Hemmert, co-chair of the commission, said in the statement. “We are still in a state of emergency. Green is a lighter risk level, but it is not a return to normal. While data is indicating Utah can begin transitioning to a lower risk level responsibly, it does not apply to everyone. Those in the high-risk categories should continue to take precautions. Together, we can protect the vulnerable while transitioning.”
Contributing: Lauren Bennett, KSL.com