At Utah’s Capitol, hundreds gather on Easter weekend, despite social-distancing guidelines

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Crowds of people take in the cherry blossoms surrounding the state Capitol in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 11, 2020.

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For a couple of hundred people this weekend, taking in the sunny Easter season weather and smelling the cherry blossoms at the Utah Capitol took priority over social distancing recommendations in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

FOX 13 reported crowds showed up on the Capitol grounds in downtown Salt Lake City on Sunday. People were walking the paths, flying kites, having picnics and taking photos. One large family group brought the Easter bunny along.

A Salt Lake Tribune photographer captured images of similar, though smaller, crowds on the Capitol grounds Saturday.

Only a small percentage of those at the Capitol were wearing face masks, one visitor told FOX 13. And many were ignoring the recently installed signs urging one-way traffic on the footpaths alongside the cherry trees.

Several people echoed the sentiment of Lisa McDonald: “Had I known how many people [would be here], I don’t know if I would have come.”

Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson told The Tribune on Monday that she was driving past the Capitol on Sunday and saw many of the groups that had gathered.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Friday's sunshine and fresh air brought many visitors to the Capitol grounds to walk under the blossoming Yoshino cherry trees that line the .7 mile Memorial Walkway encircling Capitol Hill, April 10, 2020.

“There were several people who were doing the proper thing,” Wilson said. Most family groups stayed together, she said, and stayed away from other groups.

Wilson said the gatherings illustrate her concern that “people may not always be taking this seriously enough,” she said. “We can’t let up. We need to be diligent."

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said, via email, that “it’s understandable” for people to want to enjoy warmer weather by going outside. “While families and individuals are allowed to recreate in our parks and open spaces," she said, “maintaining distance from people outside their immediate family is critical because we’re not yet out of the woods with COVID-19 transmissions.”

City employees spent the weekend monitoring public spaces and educating the public about social distancing and rules against using playgrounds and other equipment, Mendenhall said.

Wilson and Mendenhall have issued stay-at-home orders for their jurisdictions, urging people to maintain 6 feet of distance when out in public. Wilson has called on Gov. Gary Herbert — whose office is inside the Capitol — to issue a similar order statewide; Utah is one of eight states that has not done so, according to The New York Times.

Angela Dunn, the state epidemiologist, stressed Monday that local health departments have the authority to enforce stay-at-home orders as they see fit.

“At the state level, we have a directive," she added, “and the governor fully expects everyone to continue following this directive of staying home and only leaving your home — engaging with people outside of your household — when it’s absolutely necessary.”

Editor’s note: The Salt Lake Tribune and FOX13 are partners in a content-sharing agreement.

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