Summit County on Wednesday afternoon announced its most restrictive measure yet in slowing the spread of COVID-19.
Summit County Health Director Rich Bullough, in partnership with the Summit County Council, County Manager Tom Fisher, the county board of health and the mayors of Summit County’s cities and towns, has ordered Summit County residents to stay home and cease non-essential trips, effective Friday, March 27.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Summit County reported 97 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 89 being residents and eight visitors. Bullough says Summit County’s COVID-19 rate continues to rise, and Summit County has 20 times more cases per capita compared to Salt Lake County. After issuing two prior public health orders that closed restaurants and bars and limited gatherings to 10 people, Bullough says he consulted with the Utah Department of Health and other experts, leading to the stay-at-home directive.
“It became clear to me that we were going to be facing increasing rates moving forward; that our curve was way too steep; that we were going to hit a critical mass sooner than later that we would not be able to address," Bullough said. "That is when it became very clear that we had to take action.”
The order allows residents to visit grocery, convenience stores and pharmacies for food and medication as well as attending urgent medical appointments.
Services that may continue operations include essential health care facilities, banks, grocery stores, essential transportation services, hardware stores, laundromats and child care centers. Restaurants that were providing takeout or curbside service can continue to do so.
The order also requires out-of-town visitors to Summit County to quickly and safely leave the area by April 1. It also encourages second homeowners to leave or not travel to Summit County.
Additionally, the order prohibits public and private gatherings of any size, going further than recent limitations. This doesn’t include families within the same household.
Residents may still visit trails and recreate outdoors, providing they follow physical distancing measures of six feet and refrain from gathering in groups. Bullough recognizes the toll isolation can take on humans and encourages people to practice self-care.
“We need to find ways, including exercise, reading, whatever you find joy in, to live your life and be healthy," Bullough said. "But we have to do it in a responsible way, understanding that we may have been exposed, we may be carrying [COVID-19], the person we’re interacting with may be carrying. So, I think it’s important, yes, that we get out, but we have to be smart about it.”
Traveling in and out of the county for work at essential businesses is permitted, but Bullough says if you can work from home, you should. Traveling increases the risk of transmission.
“This is a stay-at-home order, and the more that people travel, the more we’re going to spread this disease,” Bullough said. “So, there has to be some logic in this.”
A violation of the order could result in a misdemeanor charge, though Bullough says the county prefers to take an educational approach to enforcement. The county will review the order in 14 days, though it remains in effect until May 1.
State leaders haven’t indicated Utah is ready for a statewide stay-at-home policy, like California, Colorado and other states. Tom Hudachko with the Utah Department of Health says the state health department supports Summit County’s action and “recognizes the right and responsibility of local jurisdictions to make decisions specific to the circumstances in their communities.”