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0000017b-652b-d50a-a3ff-f7efb02e0000KPCW's COVID-19 news coverage for Summit County and Wasatch County, Utah. 0000017b-652b-d50a-a3ff-f7efb02f0000You can also visit the Utah Department of Health, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization websites for additional information.

Summit County Council Votes To Allow Mass Gatherings, But Worries About State's Re-Opening Decisions

Summit County Council 2019

The Summit County Council on Wednesday wound up in a split vote, 3 to 2, in deciding to modify their Emergency Order and lift a ban on Special Events.

However, at the same time, a number of Council Members are concerned, even appalled, that the state seems to be preparing to further relax the emergency restrictions—contrary, they say, to the science.

The Council heard from Deputy County Attorney Dave Thomas that the county’s original Emergency Order in mid-March included a ban on Special Events.

Thomas said they’re now dealing with a contradiction, since the prohibition is still in place, while the county moved to a Yellow Low-Risk status on May 21st.    And on May 27th, Governor Gary Herbert issued an Executive Order that allows formal groups to organize mass gatherings under specific guidelines—but the events cannot accommodate over 1000 people.

The Council ultimately voted to lift the prohibition.   Voting in favor were Council Members Kim Carson, Doug Clyde and Chris Robinson.   Voting against were Roger Armstrong and Glenn Wright.

But Council Members on both sides said they were concerned about indications that the State Public Health and Economic Emergency Commission is thinking of moving to a Green level, while the Utah Department of Health disagrees.

Council Member Roger Armstrong said the state has been moving too fast toward the low-risk Phases.   

“The governor’s moves thus far, going  Red to Orange, two weeks later going Orange to Yellow, and conversations almost immediately thereafter starting about transitioning down to Green after the Governor himself initially proposed several weeks in each phase, trending down, is—borders on lunacy, and at the very least, shows a high level of irresponsibility in my mind.  We’re seeing the results of that now.  The entire state is seeing remarkable upturns in cases.”

Armstrong said they’re seeing dramatic spikes in the number of cases in areas like Cache County and Salt Lake County.   And they will need to figure out what is causing the spikes.

But what really concerns him, he said, is the public getting the wrong message that the risk is getting low, when it is still present.      

“We’re also seeing that, we shifted from Community Spread, which is unknown infections, to Business-Level Spread already, which says something about the opening of businesses, the ability of businesses to be able to follow the required protocols.  And I think it’s hard enough if you’ve gone through each of these stages so quickly that there just has not been an opportunity for workers and the public to adjust for  each step down and get used to the protocols that are in place.”

Council Chairman Doug Clyde said the state’s position is extremely irresponsible.   He said it’s based on politics, not science, and it undercuts the efforts made by Summit County’s health officials, citizens and businesses that stemmed the spread of the coronavirus.        

“Because we are going to find out, I believe, based on the results that we’ve seen over the last few days, that this is going to be a disastrously bad move.   And it is going to unfortunately, probably, haunt us into the ski season.”

Council Member Kim Carson suggested they send a letter of concern to the state’s COVID Commission.    Clyde also strongly supported that idea.     

“I thoroughly agree we need to send a strong and forceful message to the state that they are putting us at risk.   They are putting our citizens at risk.   Most importantly, they are putting the future of our economy at grave risk because they are not following their own protocols.   They are not following science.   We are going to be people disadvantaged by that.  I wanted to make that abundantly clear.  That said, I don’t believe there is any benefit, and nothing but incredible confusion and economic disadvantage to the businesses in our county if we maintain or attempt to maintain this closure of Special Events.”

While apparently some state officials say that Utah has excess hospital capacity, Clyde cautioned that can “disappear in the blink of an eye.”   He pointed to how severely New York medical facilities were slammed during the peak of their COVID crisis.

County Health Director Rich Bullough told the Council he could work with the ban still placed on Special Events, or with it lifted.    He said they’re aware that challenges will come later in the year.      

“We’re gonna be faced with surges late in the summer, into fall, and I say that not with certainty but with a certain level of confidence based on modeling.   And I believe there will be times then when we’re gonna be asking for exemptions.   And we’re gonna be asking perhaps to go to Orange more quickly than other communities as we reverse this increased trend, if we get to that point.   Again, I’m not saying it’s a certainty.  But if we get to that point, we’re gonna need all the political capital we can muster to protect our residents, our communities, our visitors, and as Doug has stated, probably our economy.”

Summit County Health Director Rich Bullough

Known for getting all the facts right, as well as his distinctive sign-off, Rick covered Summit County meetings and issues for 35 years on KPCW. He now heads the Friday Film Review team.
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