Health group asks for more public information on COVID-19 guidelines

A public health group is saying it is frustrated by what it sees as a lack of support from political leaders on COVID-19 precautions — but stops short of asking for restrictions to be enforced.

The Utah Public Health Association on Tuesday called on state leaders to do more to educate the public, to increase access to testing and to “include public health officials to enforce [state] requirements.”

But board member Carrie Butler said “enforcement” means providing support, such as giving businesses more masks for their customers, not punishing anyone.

“We are not advocating for penalties," she said. “We know in Utah it is better to use a carrot than a stick.”

Instead of asking for penalties for people or businesses not complying with public health guidelines, UPHA is asking politicians to promote a unified message of “mask up and get tested.”

UPHA also wants to see a public information campaign about the state’s transmission Index.

Two weeks ago, Utah dropped its previous COVID-19 color coding for counties and adopted a “transmission index,” separating counties into “high,” “moderate” or “low” transmission areas. Each level comes with different guidelines for things like how many people can gather together and whether masks are required. State health officials use three data points to set a county’s level: average test positivity rates, new case rates and statewide hospitalizations. At the news conference announcing the new index, Gov. Gary Herbert said local governments would decide how and whether to enforce the rules on mask-wearing, social distancing and crowding in public and private gatherings.

UPHA says the public doesn’t understand the state’s health guidance under the new system.

Ten new COVID deaths Wednesday brought the state total to 588. Utah hospitals are preparing to ration care because the state doesn’t have enough health care workers for intensive care unit patients. Criteria proposed by the Utah Hospital Association call for prioritizing younger patients over older ones.

The Utah AARP, which represents retired people, said those guidelines amount to age discrimination. A news release from the group says using age to decide who gets care is “wholly inappropriate” and at odds with the Americans with Disabilities Act.