If the state won’t issue a shelter-in-place mandate, Salt Lake City may ‘take action alone,’ mayor says

(Jeremy Harmon | Tribune file photo) Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall gives her first State of the City Address, March 3, 2020.

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Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said Thursday that if the state won’t issue a shelter-at-home mandate to stem the spread of the coronavirus, the capital city will “take action alone."

“I’m ready as your mayor of Salt Lake City, if we need to act,” she said in a video posted to Twitter on Thursday. “But I absolutely prefer to act in concert with our state partners and our county partners.”

Mendenhall said her goal is to work toward a statewide mandate, arguing that a broader move would be more effective in slowing the spread of the virus.

“It is so much more impactful if we can act together,” she said. “That’s sort of the beauty of Utah. When we do well as a state, it is when we are working together, when we’re setting down the politics and we’re solving real issues by coming together and now is the time for us to do that.”

Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson said in a statement Thursday that a stay-at-home order would likely be necessary “to avoid overburdening our hospitals as early as April."

But she agreed that such a mandate would be “best done in coordination with the state of Utah, our neighboring counties, and our municipalities.”

Wilson said she’d convened a meeting Thursday with state leaders and hospital representatives “to collect and compare data so we all can make the most informed decisions.”

“Until we have that information," she said, “all Utahns should rigorously follow the existing guidance regarding social distancing and frequent hand-washing.”

She posted a video to Twitter later Thursday, saying she heard people’s concerns, and that she and other leaders are working to find solutions and stop the COVID-19 spread.

“I’ll tell you," she said, “I’m aware that the virus does not recognize municipal boundaries, jurisdictional boundaries."

Time is of the essence, she added. “We need to move quickly."

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert has said that, at least for now, he does not intend to issue a statewide shelter-in-place requirement — despite growing pleas for him to do so from some doctors, lawmakers and city and county council members across the state, as well as decisions to take the action in nearby states like Idaho and California.

An economic plan the governor released Tuesday instead emphasized continued social distancing until virus transmission rates come down.

But while some leaders have worried about the consequences to the economy of shutting down all but essential services, Mendenhall argued in her video Thursday that strong action now could actually slow the spread of the coronavirus and its impacts on the economy in the long run.

“We know that we’re in a critical time and that the decisions we make to isolate ourselves as individuals and to make that as a directive as the public is absolutely going to set the trajectory for how long the economic impact lasts and how far and deep this virus comes in contact with our public,” she said. “We want that economic impact to be as short as possible, and we want the virus impact to be as small as possible.”

As of Thursday afternoon, Summit County had issued the first and only shelter-in-place order in the state. Those restrictions — which limit nonessential travel and instruct residents not to leave their home except for necessities, such as food or doctor appointments — begin Friday at midnight and will be in place until May 1 throughout the county.

Anyone who violates the order can be charged with a class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

Herbert said he supported the order.

Ahead of the order’s effective date on Thursday, Summit County Sheriff Justin Martinez tried to quash misunderstandings about what residents can and can’t do while the state’s hardest-hit county per capita remains under a shelter-in-place order.

Despite rumors to the contrary, Martinez said in a tweet that police won’t be conducting checkpoints, won’t be coming into people’s homes and won’t pull people over if they see them out to check if they’re seeking services deemed “essential.”

The tweet also clarified that “shelter in place” is not the same as being on lockdown. People can still leave Summit County to go to work. They can still shop at grocery stores. They can do yardwork, or walk, run, hike or bike. Driving for leisure is OK, too.

However, Martinez did urge people who don’t live in Summit County to not visit the county to recreate.

“Please recreate in your own city/county until orders are lifted,” he said. “Thank you!”

— Tribune reporter Paighten Harkins contributed to this report.