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Public health orders have created a contiguous seven-county containment zone across most of the Wasatch Front.
Nearly 1.9 million Utahns living inside it are subject to legally binding restrictions on how they can gather and what businesses can stay open.
The orders are in place in heavily populated Salt Lake, Davis, Weber and Tooele counties and smaller Summit, Wasatch and Morgan. The only densely populated county on the Wasatch Front currently without such an order is Utah County, and leaders there don’t see it as necessary.
Gov. Gary Herbert has come under pressure to issue a statewide decree, as Utah is one of just eight states without one. The Republican governor has instead issued his “Stay Home, Stay Safe” recommendations, but it has no potential criminal penalties behind them.
“We don’t want to end up having a vice grip on the economy any more than is happening right now,” Herbert recently said, with a nod to rural areas so far less affected by the viral outbreak. “We give local control for the regional differences and I think we’ve struck the right balance.”
The six county health orders — a single order issued Thursday by Weber-Morgan Health District covers both those counties — share major similarities.
All the edicts focus tightly on stepped-up hand washing and social distancing, including on the job, and discourage all public gatherings and dining in at restaurants. All push steps to keep infirm workers at home, discourage nonessential trips and urge people to telework when possible.
And they all seek to limit infection-prone operations at the same kinds of business settings that can’t keep customers and employees apart — places like spas, barber shops and nail salons — and at ones that encourage larger gatherings, such as theaters, bowling alleys, swimming pools and gyms.
But the orders also differ in crucial ways. Before we break them down, here are links to each county decree:
Technically, violating any of the six orders could carry the potential of a misdemeanor criminal charge — but the county and health authorities say they don’t intend to be heavy handed.
“The purpose of this order is to protect individuals’ health, not to hold them criminally liable; however, repeat or egregious offenders may be cited and charged,” the Weber-Morgan order reads, echoing the wording in several others.
The order from Salt Lake County spells out specifics. An initial violation is punishable by a class B misdemeanor and subsequent violations by class A misdemeanor charges — details that a county health department spokesman said reflected a “need to be completely transparent with our residents.”
The Davis and Weber-Morgan orders also mention a scenario of escalating charges, though both departments say they have asked city law enforcement “to enforce the public health order initially via warnings rather than citations.”
The Tooele, Summit and Wasatch orders make no explicit mention of criminal charges, but Summit’s order says “discretion will be used in the citing and prosecution” of violations.
State rules seek to restrict all restaurants to takeout or delivery. The county orders do the same, but add their own spin.
Summit County continues to restrict patrons from going into eateries for any reason (curbside pickup only), while Salt Lake, Tooele and Wasatch counties are letting customers enter a restaurant to pay their bill and pick up their food, though not to place their initial orders.
In Weber-Morgan and Davis counties, patrons are allowed to enter to place orders as well as to pay for them or to pick them up, as long they observe social distancing.
All six county orders also now “strongly discourage” use of cash. County edicts instead urge use of electronic payment applications such as Venmo, Google Pay or Squarecash, or credit card payments via telephone.
What other businesses have to adjust?
The county orders handle other businesses in different ways.
The decree for Utah’s most populous county is highly detailed on the kinds of nonrestaurant businesses whose operations need to be temporarily closed or adjusted and which are deemed essential. Those not required to close must be able to keep workers apart and in small groups.
“We probably could have done more research and been even more specific if we’d had additional time,” Salt Lake County Health Department spokesman Nicholas Rupp said, “but we also wanted to begin protecting the public as soon as possible.”
In fact, Salt Lake County’s order devotes an entire addendum to listing scores of different flavors of essential healthcare, human services, government functions and critical infrastructure whose operations might give residents a reason to leave their homes — as long as they stick with social distancing.
The Wasatch and Summit orders also seek to define in some detail what kinds of businesses are essential, and in some cases, their decrees offer health precautions specific to those industries.
The Tooele and Weber-Morgan orders, on the other hand, do not include such lists, beyond restaurants and places such as theaters and playgrounds. They instead urge all businesses that continue operating in the emergency to comply with social distancing practices; encourage working remotely from home where feasible; and require sick employees to stay home.
The Davis County order is also spare in detailing other businesses affected, saying only that some individuals and businesses offering essential services may be unable can’t comply with social distancing “and are therefore exempt from enforcement.”
Rupp and the spokeswoman for the Weber-Morgan health district both said they’ve since had public inquiries as granular as the status of pet grooming — an example of a category of businesses that aren’t specifically targeted like salons and eateries are but should still take precautions.
“The label of being essential or not isn’t especially important right now,” Rupp said, “because whether you’re essential or not essential, if you’re not on the red list, you can operate if you’re practicing social distancing consistently.”
A Davis County spokeswoman said authorities there are letting residents themselves decide what are “essential activities,” both in terms of commerce and travel. Department spokeswoman Isa Perry said, “people can absolutely access essential services and it's really up to families to determine what is essential for them.”
What about travel restrictions?
Salt Lake County’s order allows travel into and out of the county for essential businesses and operations. But its decree is among the most detailed of the six in this regard as well, generally discouraging all forms of travel that aren’t defined in the order’s addendum on what is and isn’t considered essential.
The Davis, Tooele and Weber-Morgan orders keep to general terms on what is necessary travel. The Davis decree says only that “leaving home for essential activities is permitted if social distancing and hygiene standards are followed” while Tooele County tells its residents to “avoid discretionary travel, shopping trips (other than shopping for food and other essentials) and social visits.”
Similarly, Weber-Morgan urges “all county residents, businesses, and community and government organizations … to cease all nonessential travel, business, and social interactions during this time” without spelling out all the variations.
The Wasatch and Summit share many specific travel rules, including language aimed at discouraging travel into and out of their county boundaries. Both their orders also limit other trips to those deemed “essential,” such as care for others; going to and from schools to pick up meals or learning materials; and complying with a court order such as a custody agreement.
The Wasatch order also specifically permits “joyrides with household members” and Tooele’s edict notes that Herbert’s directive also “allows for driving for pleasure, hunting and fishing.”
Visitors told to leave
The orders in Summit and Wasatch counties are notable in other ways because they take into account that even though smaller in population, the counties are tourist destinations hit hard by the virus.
Both counties recognized their relative high per-capita rates of COVID-19 infection in their decrees — and both took the unusual step of ordering all visitors out of county limits by April 1 “by the fastest and safest means available.”
“Nonresident homeowners should know and be advised that the local infrastructure, especially the health care infrastructure, is not equipped for an influx of part-time residents in a time of global pandemic,” Summit’s order warns.
Also unlike others, Summit’s order mentions in detail the specter of asymptomatic transmission with COVID-19 and the significant share of infected people who show no symptoms yet can still pass the coronavirus onto others.
Wasatch County Health Department spokeswoman Trudy Brereton said Friday authorities there also are continuing to discourage would-be visitors drawn to its recreation areas and the last of the season’s ice fishing and snowmobiling.
“We’re just really asking people to recreate in the county that they live in and at this time, not to travel to Wasatch County to recreate until the order is lifted,” Brereton said.
How long are these in effect?
All of the orders could be extended by county mayors or county health departments at any time. But as currently written, the edicts were announced roughly within the same one-week period around April 1 — starting with Summit County’s order March 27 — and they’d lift either two or four weeks after taking effect.
Salt Lake, Wasatch and Weber-Morgan counties’ edicts are in place for two weeks, so they’d all expire around the third week of this month, or April 13, April 14 and April 16, respectively.
Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson said Monday discussions are underway on extending that county’s stay-at-home order through “perhaps Memorial Day or longer.”
The orders out of Davis, Tooele and Summit counties would be in effect at least until April 30 or May 1.
For comparison, the state of Utah’s newly released economic response plan for the coping with the coronavirus estimates that the current “urgent phase” of the emergency will run from March 16 to anywhere between April 13 and May 1.