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How to navigate Utah’s emergency COVID-19 order: Schools, bars, football and more

(Scott G Winterton | Deseret News, pool) Utah Gov. Gary Herbert takes off his mask as he joins state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn at a press conference at the Capitol in Salt Lake City, clarifying the state's mask mandate on Monday, Nov. 9, 2020.

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At its heart, the emergency order Gov. Gary Herbert issued Sunday night in an effort to turn back Utah’s surge in COVID-19 cases comes down to one rule: If possible, stay home.

“For the next two weeks, I urge you to only hang out with those who live in your household,” Dr. Angela Dunn, the state’s epidemiologist, said Monday. “This will be the start of us being able to save our health care system.”

Here are some answers to some commonly asked questions about Herbert’s order:

Do I have to wear a mask?

Yes, if you’re out at a public place in Utah, and within 6 feet of someone you don’t live with.

This shouldn’t be a big change for 90% of Utahns, who were already under a mask mandate in the 23 counties with “high” transmission rates, based on the state’s guidelines.

Even in church?

Places of worship are exempt from the mask mandate. Faith organizations “are strongly encouraged” to follow protocols such as mask-wearing, hand-washing and social distancing, for the good of one’s neighbor.

Herbert said worship services were exempt to preserve “First Amendment rights of worship, not telling churches how to conduct themselves. I think that’s inappropriate.” However, courts have held that churches may be subject to public health orders during the pandemic; judges generally have only ruled otherwise when they believed churches were being treated differently than other organizations. Health experts have identified places of worship as common sites of transmission.

What do businesses have to do?

Businesses have to require their employees to wear masks at work, promote customers to wear masks, and post signs telling them to wear masks, and will face fines if they don’t. Businesses that organize large gatherings, like dance parties, that don’t follow guidelines could face fines up to $10,000.

Who will enforce this?

Enforcement of the health order will be mostly done by local law enforcement and regional health departments, Herbert said, backed by the Utah Department of Health. The maximum fine for violating a health order is $10,000, according to state statute and administrative rules.

For businesses that don’t enforce the emergency order — by not having adequate signage, for example — the Utah Labor Commission could issue fines, Herbert said, “which would jeopardize their business license."

”I would just encourage everybody that it’s not about government mandates, it’s about personal responsibility," Herbert said. “Now we’ve got a little more teeth in it.”

Can I go to a restaurant or a bar?

Yes, but there are restrictions. The staff is supposed to seat you at least 6 feet away from other parties. Staffers must be masked at all times, and patrons must wear their masks as they enter or leave. All bars and restaurants must stop serving alcohol by 10 p.m., but can remain open longer. (Herbert’s office clarified this Monday afternoon.)

Who can I meet socially?

The state is asking people to limit social gatherings to people in your household — in other words, the people with whom you share a roof.

What about activities after school?

If extracurricular activities are sanctioned by a school, they’re on hold for now — and that includes tryouts and practices for basketball and wrestling, both boys' and girls'.

If an event is organized independent of a school, like dance lessons or karate tournaments at a private studio, it is allowed as long as the business is maintaining all the protocols of wearing masks, staying 6 feet apart and keeping the place sanitized.

What about football?

Utah’s high school football playoffs will soldier on — a total of 11 games involving 16 teams. This week will see the finals in 2A and 3A, and the semis in 4A, 5A and 6A. The 6A finals are scheduled for Nov. 20, and 4A and 5A finals on Nov. 21.

The 4A semis will be played in Smithfield and St. George; the 5A and 6A semis are set for Eagle Mountain; the site for the 6A finals is to be determined; and all finals except 6A will be played at Dixie State University in St. George.

College football is also moving forward. Three home games are set during the run of the emergency order: Fresno State will play Utah State in Logan on Saturday; and, on Nov. 21, Brigham Young University will host North Alabama in Provo, and the University of Utah Utes are scheduled to host USC on Nov. 21 at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City.

With both high school and college football, Herbert’s order requires teams to follow testing regimens, and to limit crowd sizes. For high school games, each player can have two family members or friends in the stands for each game — all masked, and socially distant from others.

At the college games, don’t expect the superspreader mob scene TV viewers saw at Notre Dame last Saturday. USU announced Tuesday it will play Fresno State with no fans in attendance at Maverik Stadium. Rice-Eccles Stadium will have zero fans, except for families of players, following Pac-12 rules. Attendance at BYU will be limited to about 6,000, about 10% of LaVell Edwards Stadium’s capacity.

What else is allowed?

Herbert’s office clarified two items to the emergency order Wednesday:

• Physical child custody exchanges and court-ordered parent time are permitted. So are at-home child care services, including nannies and babysitters.

• Business services that happen where one lives — like plumbing or house cleaning — are permitted.

Will there be more testing?

At colleges and universities, yes. The order mandates that higher-ed students who live on campus or attend at least one in-person class a week be tested once a week. The testing will start no later than the end of the year. (The governor’s office clarified Wednesday that the weekly testing only applies to students 18 and older.)

What about K-12 students?

At the moment, just the football players will be tested. “It’s mostly just for them to close out their season,” said Melissa Cano, spokesperson for the Utah Board of Education.

Testing all K-12 students or even students who will be starting a winter sport soon — and those are on pause for two weeks — would take a lot of resources, Cano said.

After the two weeks are up under the emergency order, Cano said, what happens next for K-12 students will be up to Herbert. “We don’t know yet what that will look like,” she added.

What about K-12 teachers?

Before Herbert’s emergency order, the state was already working to roll out a plan that would allow teachers to get tested, if they wanted to.

That is still in the works and is expected to start this week. It will likely be a mix of regular and rapid tests that are available to educators.

“Teacher safety," Cano said, “is something that’s not talked about enough."

How long will all this last?

The emergency order runs through Nov. 23, the Monday before Thanksgiving. The mask mandate, though, is expected to run longer. Fighting COVID-19 will continue until there’s a working, readily available vaccine.

— Reporters Courtney Tanner and Erin Alberty contributed to this article.

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