Some Utah areas with few new coronavirus cases may be allowed to open faster than others

(Steve Griffin | Deseret News, pool) Dr. Angela Dunn, state epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health, speaks during the daily COVID-19 briefing at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, May 13, 2020.

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As health officials report two more coronavirus-related deaths Wednesday, Utah’s epidemiologist said it’s likely that Utah’s next steps to unwind restrictions will likely be uneven.

Dr. Angela Dunn said some areas in Utah that are experiencing fewer cases may be allowed to open faster that those where the virus is spreading more rapidly.

Any movement in this area will take the sign off of Gov. Gary Herbert.

On May 1, Herbert changed the official risk level for the whole state from “red,” indicating a high risk of COVID-19 for all residents, to an “orange,” or moderate, risk level that allows certain businesses to reopen. “Yellow”-level restrictions allow all businesses to open with reasonable precautions, and for schools to reopen.

“It’s important for these jurisdictions to be able to make decisions that make sense for them,” Dunn said Wednesday. “There are certainly some places in Utah that have seen a decrease in cases, while maintaining testing capacity and they still have hospital surge capacity. So those places will likely be able to move a little quicker to “yellow.” In terms of a blanket statewide order, I think that’s a little tougher because we do still have jurisdictions that are seeing an increase in cases.”

Some local governments have already asked to deviate from the state-wide “orange” level.

The 262-person town of Bluff in San Juan County, which has at least five confirmed cases of COVID-19, was granted an exemption that allowed it to keep the highest restrictions in place. Requests to reopen all businesses made by Washington, Kane and Iron counties were denied earlier this month.

With two new deaths Tuesday, the state’s coronavirus death toll has risen to 75 people. The latest deaths were both people who lived in Salt Lake County and who had been in long-term care facilities.

The state now has 6,620 COVID-19 cases, 188 more than was reported Tuesday.

Eighteen more people have been hospitalized since the day before, bringing the total to 553 hospitalizations. The number of currently hospitalized people remains at 99.

So far, 156,786 people have been tested for the coronavirus. In the last day, 3,301 more tests have been tallied.

The health department reports 3,406 cases — about half of all of Utah’s reported cases — are considered “recovered,” meaning it’s been three weeks since they were first diagnosed and they are alive.

Dunn said Wednesday that it’s understandable that people want to move back to their daily lives as they were pre-pandemic, but stressed a return to normalcy is likely a far way off.

“We need to evaluate how we can still do the things we love and enjoy,” she said, “but just in a different way.”