State Continues Encouraging Social Distancing, Not Ready To Mandate Shelter In Place

Mar 24, 2020

The Utah Department of Health Tuesday reported 298 confirmed COVID-19 cases across the state, with 90 in Summit County and 16 in Wasatch County. 

State Epidemiologist Angela Dunn says the state now has capacity to perform up to 2,600 tests per day. They’ve also expanded testing criteria, so now anyone who has symptoms — fever, cough, shortness of breath —can get a test. Only four to five percent of people tested have tested positive, which is lower than other states. In Colorado, 12% of those tested are positive.

On Monday, Summit County issued a public health order prohibiting gatherings of more than 10 people and putting hygiene and operational standards in place for businesses such as salons, construction sites and day cares. Dunn says she was unaware of the county’s order but that the county is doing a great job at identifying positive tests and reaching out to everyone who could have been in contact with patients, assessing their risk and recommending quarantine. Other than that, Dunn says the state doesn’t recommend any other action to quell the spread in Summit County.

“We have been providing extra help to them from the state level, and they also have CDC help as well, in order to control that cluster that’s happening in Summit County right now," Dunn said. "Again, without a vaccine or treatment, the only thing we can do is recommend social distancing, and Summit County is following those recommendations and doing a good job of it.”

Some states have issued shelter-in-place orders, where everyone stays home for a certain period, except for essential tasks, like grocery shopping. Utah has orders such as limiting group sizes to 10 and limiting restaurant and bar operations. Dunn says the state is constantly evaluating current and possible actions to reduce the spread of the virus. The benefit of shelter-in-place is that there’s less transmission during that time period, but Dunn is concerned about what happens after that.

“If you’re sheltering in place for 15 days, what happens on day 16 when everybody comes back together in mass gatherings?" Dunn said. "Time will tell, but there is some evidence from past epidemics that you have another increase in cases when those shelter-in-place restrictions are lifted.”

Currently, Utah is not reporting on who has recovered from the virus after testing positive. However, Dunn says everyone who is 14 days out from their infection is considered recovered. As of Sunday, only one person has died from COVID-19-related causes. With so little understanding of the virus, Dunn says it’s not clear if people build immunity to COVID-19 after they get it, meaning they could possibly contract the virus again.