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Summit County ends public health state of emergency

The Summit County Health Department
Summit County Health Department
The Summit County Health Department

Two years after the first case of COVID-19 community spread in Utah was found at a Main Street bar, Summit County officials have declared an end to the pandemic-related state of emergency.

Summit County’s public health emergency declaration expired at 11:59 p.m. March 31 on the order of Health Director Phil Bondurant.

Announcing the move at last week’s Summit County Council meeting, Bondurant said the health department was transitioning to tracking COVID-19 the way it tracks other communicable diseases.

“Right now, by all accounts, the science, the data: They all indicate that this is no longer an emergency,” Bondurant said. “And, previous two years, absolutely this was an emergency. But right now, it's not. Moving forward, it probably won't be either. That doesn't mean it's going to be out of our lives. But it does mean that we have to look at this differently.”

Bondurant said the tools health professionals use to treat and prevent COVID-19 are all available locally. Those include vaccines and booster shots, but also remedies like antiviral drugs and monoclonal antibody treatments.

A county attorney explained that Bondurant, as the local health officer, had the authority to terminate the emergency declaration. He is also empowered to reimpose one if conditions warrant.

Councilor Roger Armstrong said one thing that gave him confidence ending the emergency declaration was the right move was that the county would not be prevented from enacting another one.

“All things willing, maybe we can relax a little bit, have a nice summer, worry more about sunburns than COVID-19 for a little while. See what the fall brings us,” Armstrong said.

Emergency declarations allow the county to pursue reimbursement from the federal government for costs accrued while responding to an emergency. The declarations are also required for some other orders to be enacted, like mask mandates.

The county first declared a public health emergency related to the pandemic on March 12, 2020. The county council extended the declaration several times until the state Legislature ended it in May 2021.

Summit County enacted another emergency declaration in August of that year amid the surge in cases tied to the Delta virus variant. It was that public health emergency declaration that enabled mask mandates in local schools.

Case numbers have since dropped significantly. Bondurant told the Board of Health on Monday that some recent days have seen no local cases.

“Even with new variants coming along, the current one being BA.2, the vaccines continue to offer a very high level of protection from severe disease and risk,” Bondurant told the council. “Again, we're not going to see complete eradication of the disease. There's always going to be COVID and sickness, but recognizing that, we want to know the severity of that. And as it sits now, based on the science that I'm aware of, and that I'm reading, we're in a very good spot to move forward.”

The Summit County Health Department continues to offer COVID-19 testing. Information about test locations can be found at summitcountyhealth.org.

Alexander joined KPCW in 2021 after two years reporting on Summit County for The Park Record. While there, he won many awards for covering issues ranging from school curriculum to East Side legacy agriculture operations to land-use disputes. He arrived in Utah by way of Madison, Wisconsin, and western Massachusetts, with stints living in other areas across the country and world. When not attending a public meeting or trying to figure out what a PID is, Alexander enjoys skiing, reading and watching the Celtics.