Editor’s note: The Salt Lake Tribune is providing free access to critical stories about the coronavirus. Sign up for our Top Stories newsletter, sent to your inbox every weekday morning. To support journalism like this, please donate or become a subscriber.

As Utah doctors have called for a statewide mask mandate, Gov. Gary Herbert has pointed to the state’s 10 “green” rural counties to justify a patchwork of local rules. Those 10 rural counties shouldn’t be burdened with a mask requirement, he has said.

But in recent weeks, some of those “new normal” counties have seen coronavirus outbreak escalate.

In Kane County, for example, more than half of its 40 cases were diagnosed in the past two weeks. In the past seven days, the southwest Utah county has had more new cases per capita than any other county except San Juan, where a nursing home outbreak has infected dozens.

In total, the rural counties that moved to green on June 20 — Beaver, Daggett, Duchesne, Emery, Garfield, Kane, Millard, Piute, Uintah and Wayne — still have fewer new cases per population than the state does overall. Wayne and Daggett counties have not yet identified a single case.

But other counties in that group have seen a spike in cases, and the rise appears to begin with the transition to “green” status, when restrictions were lifted.

For instance, Kane, Millard, Duchesne and Uintah counties each in the past two weeks confirmed more new cases than did six other Utah counties that are at a higher risk rating.

In Kane County, health investigators have not identified any one significant source of the new cases, said David Heaton, spokesman for the Southwest Utah Public Health Department. It may be an extension of outbreaks that have filled hospital beds in Washington and Iron counties, Heaton said.

”We’re not aware of any large event or anything other than the virus progressing. And them going to green,” Heaton said.

Statewide, Utah’s new coronavirus cases on Tuesday held below 500 for the second day in a row, but the state reported four more deaths.

They are:

  • A Davis County man, between the ages of 65 and 84, who lived in a long-term care facility.
  • A Salt Lake County woman, older than 85, who lived in a long-term care facility.
  • A Box Elder County man, age 45 to 64, who died in a hospital.
  • A Weber County man, age 65 to 84, who was not hospitalized when he died.

Utah’s death toll from the coronavirus stood at 251.

The Utah Department of Health reported 486 new cases on Tuesday, another relatively low day after Monday’s 409 cases. But the state has averaged 610 new cases per day for the past week, far above the state’s goal of less than 500 daily cases for a 7-day average by Aug. 1.

There were 33 new hospitalizations reported Tuesday, the same as Monday, with 189 Utah patients currently admitted for COVID-19 — ten fewer than Monday.

In the past week, 9.6% of those tested for the coronavirus received positive results.

Of 35,012 patients who have tested positive since the beginning of the pandemic, 22,032 are considered “recovered” — that is, they have survived for at least three weeks after being diagnosed.