To fight coronavirus, Summit County stops sit-down meals at restaurants and closes other gathering spots

(Courtesy photo) The kitchen at Hearth & Hill, in Park City's Kimball Junction, can be seen behind a glass wall.

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In a sweeping health order designed to combat the spread of the coronavirus, the Summit County Health Department on Sunday issued a 30-day shutdown of dozens of businesses where “people tend to gather.”

The order affects all “resorts, restaurants, taverns, bars, entertainment venues, fitness and exercise facilities, spas and churches.”

The order comes a day after Summit County documented the state’s first case of community spread of COVID-19, in a bar employee, and as governors across the country take similar steps with restaurants.

To ensure that food is still available in Summit County, grocery stores will stay open, the health department said in a news release. And restaurants also can continue to operate on a limited basis, through curbside takeout or drive-thru service, on a noncash basis.

Cash transactions may be allowed if a restaurant follows stringent guidelines to separate money handling from food handling and implements cleansing measures between each transaction.

Deliveries through a third party — such as Uber Eats, GrubHub and Door Dash — are prohibited.

Restaurants have two days to notify the county health department whether or not they will implement curbside takeout service.

The order will expire April 16, but officials will review the situation in two weeks, according to Summit County Health Officer Rich Bullough. Along with Summit County Attorney Margaret Olson, he issued the public health order as a way to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the county and state, and to protect the area’s health care system.

The businesses and places targeted by the order “represent those for which the risk of community transmission is higher due to groups of people gathering, the potential for contact with virus particles due to proximity and the exchange of cash and credit cards,” Bullough said in the release.

“Given the recent case of community transmission arising from a local restaurant and bar establishment,” he said, “it is prudent to enact these regulations.”

On Saturday, a doorman at a popular bar on Park City’s Main Street was diagnosed with COVID-19. The diagnosis marked a turning point for the state. It was the first confirmed Utah coronavirus patient for whom the source of infection is unknown.

Bullough said the dramatic action was necessary because the county is a travel destination, and the risk of transmission from visitors is high. There also is a heightened risk, he said, “that there may also be further transmission visitor to visitor that may contribute to infections outside of Summit County.”

Summit County has tallied six cases of COVID-19 among visitors and two among residents.

As part of the order, Park City Transit will move to its more limited spring service levels and the county health department will not approve any new special event permits.

“We can’t emphasize enough how important it is at this time that we band together as a community,” Bullough said. “Go to the grocery store in an orderly manner. Be patient. Be kind. Look for opportunities to help those in need. If we all work together, we’ll be able to overcome the impacts of this virus.”

Park City’s mandated closures follow a precedent sent by other states across the country. Governors in California, Ohio, Illinois, Tennessee and Massachusetts have closed or limited service at restaurants, bars and wineries in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus, The Associated Press reported. So far more than 3,200 Americans have been infected and 62 have died.

While the situation is devastating for any food community, Kevin Valaika, co-owner of Shabu on Park City’s Main Street, said many established businesses in the Utah resort town normally close for several weeks after the ski season and will likely fare better than those in other states.

“Still, this could take out some small restaurants,” he said. “We’ve had bad snow years where the ski areas closed early. But at least you were able to prepare ahead of time, not on a short notice like this.”

Valaika said it’s ironic that the mandated closures come after a winter with abundant snowfall and visitors. “We were busy this year, on a record pace,” he said. “Last Thursday and Friday, we served 200 people in our 80-seat restaurant. Today, it’s zero.”

Diversified Bars and Restaurants said Sunday that it will donate the proceeds of all gift card sales to its service staff; DBR-owned eateries in Park City include No Name Saloon/The Annex, Butcher’s Chop House & Bar, and Boneyard Saloon/Wine Dive.

“We understand and accept the closures are essential to help stop the spread of COVID-19 and to protect our staff, customers, and community,” DBR principal owner Jesse Shetler said in a statement. Staff are concerned about the impending loss of income, he said, and the promotion will allow community members to help. “We look forward to welcoming customers back when we can safely reopen,” he said, “undoubtedly with additional protocols in place.”

While Salt Lake County has not yet officially documented community spread, it is coming, said Dagmar Vitek, medical director of Salt Lake County Health Department.

“We can expect community spread,” she told reporters on Sunday. “We know people will become ill and we know people will die.”

Vitek didn’t advise avoiding restaurants and bars completely but said if healthy people choose to dine out, they should make sure that tables are an appropriate distance apart. “Takeout is a good option,” she added.

She said all residents need to wash their hands regularly, avoid large groups and put distance — about 6 feet — between themselves and others when in public.

“It’s important for people to comply with social distancing,” she said. Those who are older or have compromised immune systems “need to stay home as much as possible.”

Younger people who may not think they will get sick — or if they do it, will be mild — need to be limit social exposure as well.

“We need to think about those who are vulnerable around you,” she said. “We really have to think about us as a community.”