As Utah governor watches for COVID-19 cases to drop, Salt Lake County’s stay-at-home order may extend past Memorial Day

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson on Oct. 1, 2019. She is considering extending her county's stay-at-home order through "Memorial Day or longer."

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Utah is showing “some hopeful signs” in data about the state’s coronavirus outbreak, but Gov. Gary Herbert said Tuesday he wants to see cases drop for a week or more before lifting any state restrictions.

And Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson said she is considering extending her county’s stay-at-home order from its current April 13 end date through “perhaps Memorial Day or longer.”

“It’s safe to say that everyone is recognizing — and we are seeing in our models — the virus peaking in late April. Some hospitals and others say it won’t peak until the first week of May,” the mayor said Monday in an interview. “So, sadly, we’re really not in a position to open anything up on April 14.”

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Utah rose less than 4% from Monday to Tuesday, to 1,738 in total. Thirteen deaths have been reported.

Modeling at one point predicted a much higher infection rate and number of cases than Utah is experiencing, Herbert said. “So I’m a little careful about modeling. I’m really more concerned about what’s actually happening in real time,” he said.

“Clearly, we want to make sure we understand what the transmission rate is, how many people are in fact infected out there, are they getting treatment? Our tracking and tracing is something that is very important.”

“... If we’re getting to the point where we’re actually seeing reduction, and if we have reduction in the rate for seven to 14 days, that’s maybe a time to loosen, not tighten, and help with the economy,” he said.

Unlike the voluntary directives issued by the state — except for a mandatory elements, such as a ban on dining inside restaurants — the Salt Lake County order that took effect April 3 requires residents to comply. Violators can be charged with a class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. However, the mayor said enforcement focuses on egregious infractions and most people will receive a warning first.

Wilson said she plans to extend the current order on Thursday or Friday, and officials are debating how long it should last.

“We could do a short order like two weeks, or we could go further perhaps to Memorial Day or longer," she said. “And then, if things change and we can loosen up at some point along the way, we could just rescind.”

Wilson added that it probably is not wise to lift stay-at-home orders until well after a peak in infections is seen. “What we’re trying to do is prevent a second spike,” she said. “When we open up, we want it to be permanently.”

She added the community is far from that point and likely will be for weeks or longer. “We are going up the curve right now,” she said. And depending on the model, “We’re going to see us peaking in a few weeks, maybe three to four at the latest.”

Wilson said that over time, data from testing may provide more certainty on when it is safe to lift the order and what the community impact may be once it happens.

One lesson learned in recent weeks — that even young and healthy people may become seriously ill or die — tends to make her especially cautious not to lift the order too soon.

“Initially, we thought this would really uniquely impact people with compromised immune systems and respiratory issues or the elderly,” she said.

Instead, “It’s random as to who is impacted and who is not. Until we get more certainty around that or until we have antibody testing, it’s really rough to just say, ‘Hey, we’re not going to overwhelm hospitals now. Let’s all go and take the risk.'”

She said the stay-at-home order seems to have slowed infections in her county and wishes — as she has called for — Herbert would issue stronger statewide orders. “If every county moves that direction, we’re going to get out of this quicker.”

Salt Lake County’s stay-at-home order forcibly closed more businesses, such as barbershops, salons and tattoo parlors, and directed all individuals to limit their trips outside to only “essential activities."

That order covers about 1.1 million residents. Other counties that have issued similar orders include Davis, Salt Lake, Summit, Tooele and Wasatch. The Weber-Morgan Health Department became the latest to issue an order on Friday.

(Salt Lake County) Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson announced a stay-at-home order on Sunday, March 29, 2020. This is a list of businesses that are closed, restricted and still open.