Salt Lake County extends coronavirus public health order to May 1

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) A sign at the Ridge Foothill retirement community reads, "We will survive COVID-19," on Tuesday, April 7, 2020.

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Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson announced Thursday that the county would extend its order directing residents to stay inside for all but “essential activities” through May 1.

The new stay-at-home order will largely mirror the current one, which expires April 13, Wilson said. Essential businesses will be allowed to keep operating, while the businesses closed by the stay-at-home order — including hair and nail salons, spas and massage parlors, as well as swimming pools, playgrounds, recreation centers, movie theaters, bowling alleys and social clubs — will remain shuttered.

“There will be no substantial changes," Wilson explained during a virtual weekly news conference on the county’s coronavirus response.

Compliance with the county’s order is mandatory, and violators can be charged with a class B misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. The county has said that enforcement will focus on egregious infractions and that most people will receive a warning first.

Wilson told The Salt Lake Tribune previously that she was considering extending that mandate through “perhaps Memorial Day or longer.” But she said Thursday that the May 1 date will better align the county’s rules with those in other areas of the state.

“We’re coordinating with the state right now and other counties; we’re trying to get more consistency on the various timelines,” Wilson noted. “That will be helpful to the public as we recognize this is not simple as we move about a new way of doing business.”

Salt Lake County’s effort to align with other communities comes as the state Legislature considers weakening the power of local communities to issue stay-at-home mandates in an upcoming special session over concern about a lack of consistency in the rules from one county to another.

Stay-at-home orders are currently in effect in the densely populated Salt Lake, Davis, Weber and Tooele counties, as well as in smaller Summit, Wasatch and Morgan. Utah County is the exception along the Wasatch Front, with local leaders saying they do not see the need for a stay-home order.

Utah is one of eight states without a statewide stay-at-home order.

Though the county plans to extend its regulations to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Wilson said leaders there are also beginning to plan for how to reopen — though “we don’t believe we’re going to be able to go from zero to 100,” she cautioned. “We’re going to have to do it in a phased way.”

The county is currently in the “attack the virus” phase of a four-part plan. The priorities now are to reduce the number of cases and hospitalizations through social distancing measures and the stay-at-home order, ensure hospitals can treat all patients, test all people with COVID-19 symptoms and conduct active monitoring of confirmed cases.

In phase two, the county plans to begin easing restrictions, Wilson said. Next, it will be able to open up fully, though perhaps “with some modifications."

Finally, the county will move into a preparation phase for future public health crises in the years ahead, “with the hope that we don’t have to face a pandemic like this but the realization we’re living in a very different world now,” the mayor said.

David Schuld, intelligence section officer chief for COVID-19 response at the county, said there are signs that the curve of coronavirus cases is beginning to flatten.

On Thursday, the number of confirmed cases in the state rose to nearly 2,000, with 935 of those in Salt Lake County. But county projections show that “had we not begun practicing social distancing, we would have seen more hospitalizations and more fatalities” than there are now, Schuld said — with high projections showing there could be as many as 2,230 cases in the county now without those measures.

“Let’s stay the course,” he said. “These next two weeks are critical.”

Salt Lake County Health Department Director Gary Edwards also praised the efforts of Salt Lake County residents in slowing the spread of the virus but again raised concern about the number of cases in the 20- to 40-year-old age group.

If hospital beds are taken by 20- and 30-year-olds, he said last week, that could take a bed from someone in their 60s — an age group that the Centers for Disease Control has identified as being at higher risk for severe health impacts as the result of the virus.

“We need this age group to please, please do your part,” he said of younger adults.

Edwards also asked that residents continue social distancing, not hold or attend family gatherings for Easter weekend and wear face masks when out on essential trips.