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Beginning Friday, all adults entering Utah — either by highway or airplane — will be required to fill out a health form asking if they have any symptoms of COVID-19, have been tested for it recently or traveled through hot spots.
“It may require quarantine,” Gov. Gary Herbert said Wednesday as he announced orders for the forms.
He said such steps will help ensure if someone is infected, “that they're not out spreading that to anybody else. And that will take some efforts on our part to make sure that people are quarantined appropriately.”
Herbert explained some of the questions that will be asked.
“This travel declaration will ask travelers if they have been tested for COVID-19, particularly in the last 14 days,” he said. “We will ask whether they are currently experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.” And it will ask where they have been traveling.
Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall also announced that passengers arriving at the capital’s international airport will soon have their temperatures taken — but that was not yet included in the new order because the state has not yet received the no-touch temperature sensors needed.
Carlos Braceras, executive director of the Utah Department of Transportation, said the state gained permission to use the federal wireless emergency alert system to send texts automatically to people entering the state on major freeways and highways.
It will ask that, once they stop driving, they visit the website entry.utah.gov to fill out a form.
“There will be a self-declaration form that they will be asked to fill out, basically identifying information: name, email address, where they’ve been in the last two weeks and if they’re exhibiting any of the virus effects,” he said. Adults will be asked to include information about children traveling with them.
Once filed, the state will send back a confirmation email. Braceras said the information will be sent to secure Utah Department of Health databases.
If someone reported they have COVID-19 symptoms, “the Department of Health would then have the ability to contact them to do what we’re recommending to all Utahns [in that situation], to quarantine for the 14 days, to self-isolate and, if necessary, to be able to have testing done.”
Braceras said that will help the state “manage the folks that are entering our state and to be able to control the virus.”
At Salt Lake City International Airport, exiting passengers will be handed cards with the same message. It will not yet be distributed at other airports in the state, although Braceras said that could change.
Braceras does not expect the state to track down nor punish people who fail to fill out the forms.
“We do not see this as an effort to penalize people,” he said. “We see this as an effort to inform and to gather data. And we're convinced that when people know what the right thing is to do, they're going to do the right thing because it's going to help them and everybody else.”
Mendenhall praised the action.
“This is really a crucial next step for us as a state and certainly as the capital city to make sure that we're implementing as many appropriate measures as we can to slow the spread of this highly contagious virus,” she said.
“The measures we’ve put in place to stay safe and stay home are working,” Mendenhall added. “Now we need to keep working together as a state to make sure that we are all staying home and staying safe. Now isn’t the time for us to let off the gas.”
Airport officials said earlier on Tuesday that the number of passengers there is down by 91% because of the virus. Still, the mayor said, “Each and every person coming into the state is still a new opportunity for the virus to spread.”
She added, “I understand that UDOT has submitted an order and is awaiting the receipt of no-touch temperature sensors so that we can begin testing, or at least temperature checking, passengers arriving” at the airport. They have yet to arrive.
Mendenhall noted that people began flying after the 9/11 attacks when they felt that enhanced security made it safe to do so. She said that’s tougher to do now when people do not know who may be sick, but such things as temperature sensors may help restore confidence to fly.
Herbert said the new data collection will likely be funded by federal grant money.
The governor also said he had a conversation earlier in the day with physician Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top epidemiologist, who gave “a thumbs up” to Utah’s efforts to fight COVID-19.
“He liked the fact that we did not hesitate. We took very direct, decisive action early on,” Herbert said. “We were early in closing of our schools compared to many other states. We closed in-house dining very early,” and said universities also closed early.
“We see the benefits now, I think, in some of the numbers that have been reported,” Herbert said.
Still Utah is one of just eight states that have not issued statewide stay-at-home orders. Instead, local government along the populous Wasatch Front have taken the initiative to issue their own county-by-county orders. The exception is Utah County, the state’s second most populous, where leaders have said they do not see the need for such a restriction.