Utah orders restaurants, bars to close all dining to curb coronavirus

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) Dylan Ewell and Patrick Liley pack up chairs as White Horse Restaurant and Bar in Salt Lake City prepared Monday to close for 30 days. Gov. Gary Herbert on Tuesday ordered all dine-in options at Utah restaurants, bars and food-services business to close for two weeks, while leaving curbside, drive-thru, pick up and delivery operations unaffected.

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Utah restaurants, bars and food-service establishments were ordered Tuesday to close all dine-in operations as of midnight Wednesday in a move Gov. Gary Herbert and health officials said was meant to limit the spread of coronavirus.

The temporary order, put into effect for two weeks, does not affect curbside, drive-thru, pick up and delivery operations, Herbert said.

“We have not made this decision lightly,” the governor said in a statement. “I know this will disrupt lives and cost jobs, and for that I’m very sorry.”

The state’s more than 5,260 eateries and taverns and their employees, who make up about 8% of Utah’s total workforce, were already experiencing a sharp downturn in customer traffic in recent days, with public warnings for social distancing and other steps aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19.

“Still, I’m convinced this will save many lives,” Herbert continued, “and I’m also convinced that Utahns will step up to help each other and we’ll get through this together.”

His Tuesday decree, which he said would be reviewed in two weeks, also banned all gatherings of more than 10 people, restricted all but the most critical visits to nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, and recommended that residents over 60 and those with compromised immune systems avoid contact with others.

The public health order also recommended that all Utahns avoid discretionary travel, nonvital shopping trips and social visits for now.

It also recommended self-isolation for all household members when one of them tests positive for coronavirus.

A top health official called Herbert’s order and additional measures on heightened sanitation and screening workers for COVID-19 symptoms “prudent steps."

"It's becoming more and more clear that one of the most important things we can do as individuals is to practice good social distancing,” said physician Joseph Miner, executive director of the Utah Department of Health. “This order helps facilitate that across the state."

Herbert at the same time “strongly” recommended Tuesday that Utahns continue to patronize local businesses and restaurants within the new health guidelines “in whatever way they can.”

"Our local restaurants are great sources of nutritious, secure, and delicious meals,” he said.

Health officials announced Utah’s first documented case of community spread of COVID-19 on Saturday — and the patient worked at The Spur Bar and Grill in Park City. The bar has been closed since late Friday evening.

Herbert’s order comes as coronavirus cases in Utah continued to climb Tuesday and elected leaders rolled out the first emergency measures to help small businesses and those experiencing unemployment as a result of the virus.

The governor’s Office of Economic Development, or GOED, also announced Tuesday the new availability of low-interest loans for small businesses and nonprofit groups in Utah struggling with the impact of the pandemic.

Through the federal Small Business Administration, the program offers loans in all 29 Utah counties of up to $2 million per entity on a 30-year repayment schedule and at reduced interest rates of 3.75% for businesses and 2.75% for nonprofits, GOED said.

Businesses can to apply at sba.gov/funding-programs/disaster-assistance.

“We recognize this loan program will not solve all of today’s economic challenges, but it will serve as a useful tool for businesses affected by COVID-19,” said Ryan Starks, managing director of business services at GOED, in a statement.

Spokespersons for the Utah Hospitality Association and Utah Restaurant Association could not immediately be reached late Tuesday for comment.

Herbert’s move comes after Salt Lake and Summit county leaders already made similar restaurant restrictions.

Earlier in the week, a leading business official predicted that the state’s hotels and restaurants would be “on the bleeding edge of any economic impact” from COVID-19, in light of cascading cancellations of large gatherings and all but a few entertainment, sporting and other public events.

“What we're really doing by limiting these large group gatherings is taking our medicine today so that we can be healthy tomorrow,” said Derek Miller, president and CEO of Salt Lake Chamber.

“The way that we maintain our individual health is the same way that we maintain our economic health,” Miller said. “And it has everything to do right now with slowing the spread of the virus.”

Lt. Governor Spencer J. Cox, who heads the state’s COVID-19 Community Task Force, said Utah needed to take such precautions at least until authorities widened their ability to test for the coronavirus and isolate patients in a targeted way where needed.

Cox said a team of experts was currently focused on building the state’s testing capabilities. But avoiding close personal contact where possible in the meantime and curtailing most gatherings, Cox said, “will help reduce the burden on our medical system, and save lives.”

Utah’s two largest health care providers said Monday they would begin postponing nonessential medical care and treatment to free hospital rooms for an expected surge in coronavirus cases in the coming weeks.