Salt Lake City asks to move to ‘yellow’ risk status; 419 new cases of COVID-19 reported statewide

(Eli Lucero | The Herald Journal / AP) Workers test Utah State University students for COVID-19 on Sunday, Aug. 30, 2020, in Hyde Park, Utah.

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Salt Lake City is requesting to downshift to a lower level of coronavirus restrictions — moving from “orange” to “yellow” — after case counts in the capital have decreased over the past month.

The city has been the last holdout in Utah to remain in the more precautionary status. And now, if the new request is approved by the governor, it will join the rest of the state, which is all “yellow” and “green.”

Mayor Erin Mendenhall first announced the change Wednesday in an email and a video shared with city employees, celebrating that “we are continuing in the right direction in this pandemic.” The shift is expected to take effect Friday.

She then posted the news on her Twitter page: “While this is good news,” she cautioned, “now is not the time to ease up on being responsible, wearing masks in public spaces, and keeping six feet of distance between you and others.”

The “yellow” level doesn’t mean there’s less risk for getting the virus, but rather that the restrictions on public activities ease. Under the status, people can gather in groups of up to 50, for instance, and all businesses can reopen. Restaurants can also offer dine-in services.

The request still has to go through the governor’s office, a spokesperson there confirmed. But there’s likely nothing that would bar the city from being able to shift to “yellow” — especially since Mendenhall was the one to ask that the capital stay in “orange” until spread of the virus was more controlled there.

The decision was made in conjunction with the Utah Department of Health, her office said.

Salt Lake City has stayed in the “orange” restrictions for months. And after 30 days of decreasing numbers — which is more than the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends — Mendenhall said Wednesday that she feels it’s now safe to downgrade.

Her determination also included seeing stabilization or declining cases in the hardest-hit ZIP codes in the capital, in the neighborhoods of Rose Park and Glendale. Dr. Angela Dunn, the state’s epidemiologist, said in a news release on the city’s change that she’s encouraged by the numbers. But, she added, there will be continued efforts to work with those impacted communities “to decrease barriers to testing.”

Additionally, the surrounding county’s mask mandate will remain in effect. Mendenhall largely credits that for the reduced numbers, which have fluctuated a bit day-to-day, but declined overall.

The shift to “yellow” will have no impact on the Salt Lake City School District’s decision to start the year online next week.

“There’s no change to our plans,” confirmed district spokesperson Yándary Chatwin, noting students will still log in remotely Tuesday.

The district does not plan to welcome anyone back in person until cases in the greater Salt Lake County area are below 10 per 100,000 residents and below 5% positivity in tests. Currently, the county is at 13.3 cases per 100,000 residents and 8.95% positivity.

Meanwhile, after a few days of low counts statewide, another 419 Utahns were reported to have tested positive for COVID-19, according to Wednesday’s daily count from the Utah Department of Health.

And a Davis County man is the latest person in the state to have died from the disease. He was older than 85 and living in a long-term care facility. His death brings the state’s overall toll to 410 people.

Utah’s rolling seven-day average for new cases — the metric public-health officials use to gauge trends — is now at 376 cases per day.

Another 3,904 tests for the virus were processed in the last 24 hours, UDOH reported. The rolling seven-day rate of positive test results is at 9.1%, about where it has been hovering for the last five days.

Dunn has said a 3% positivity rate would indicate the virus is under control.

As of Wednesday, there were 128 people hospitalized in Utah with COVID-19, including 24 admitted since the previous day. Since the pandemic began, 3,134 Utahns have been hospitalized with COVID-19.

The state reported one more outbreak in a school, with 11 more total cases, compared with the previous day.

Since public schools began opening on Aug. 13, there have been 15 outbreaks in schools, affecting 87 patients. Since the beginning of the pandemic, there have been 132 patients infected in 26 school outbreaks, with a median age of 17. Seven of those patients have been hospitalized; none has died.

Two schools have closed, so far, due to outbreaks — American Preparatory’s Draper 1 campus and the Utah Military Academy’s Lehi facility. Another charter, Providence Hall in Herriman, reported a positive case with one student at its junior high Wednesday and several were quarantined. Alpine School District has also seen 67 cases across its 91 schools.

In Granite School District, Granger High School — the largest in the state — has had 10 cases, the spokesperson there confirmed Wednesday. That’s below the 15 that the state recommends before closing. Overall, that has resulted in 75 people being quarantined; districtwide, under 300 have been, as well.

The cases, spokesperson Ben Horsley said, all appear to be from community transmission not within the school. Parents have been notified.

The health department also noted Wednesday that 52,822 Utahns have tested positive for COVID-19 since the first cases were tallied in March. That’s out of 668,425 Utahns who have been tested overall.