Utah County Attorney David Leavitt said Tuesday that the county’s report that two businesses had flouted coronavirus restrictions and created hot spots of the virus were inaccurate.
That revelation comes three weeks after county commissioners called for businesses to comply with coronavirus recommendations using the story of two companies that had ignored guidelines and required employees with a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis to report to work.
The commissioners criticized the businesses in question for “putting employees, their families and ultimately the health of the community at risk" in a public release that set off a firestorm on social media and attracted national headlines.
The release said the two companies accounted for 68 cases, and Leavitt said he isn’t disputing that.
But “as we’ve gotten deeper into the issue, we have learned that the assertions weren’t true, that there are not two businesses in Utah County that were forcing employees to work,” he added in a livestreamed news conference Tuesday.
The coronavirus hot spots, he said, were likely created by employees coming to work who didn’t know they had the virus.
Leavitt said the county health department had shared the information it did with the County Commission based on interviews with employees. The commissioners then felt it was important to release the information to warn other businesses to take caution during the pandemic in an effort to “protect the public.”
How the county came to the conclusion the allegations were false remains unclear, and Leavitt directed questions on that matter to the county health department. But Leavitt said the department should not be “vilified.”
“I don’t know how they got it wrong," Leavitt said. "But we all get it wrong under the best of intentions.”
A spokeswoman with the county health department said she was unable to comment on the matter.
The county has declined repeatedly to give any information about the two businesses in question, noting that neither of the companies have direct interaction with the public and arguing that releasing the information would violate the private health information of employees.
The Utah Media Coalition, made up of the state’s largest news organizations including The Salt Lake Tribune, said last week that it was prepared to go to court to obtain the names of the two businesses and called on the county commissioners to release the information without a public records fight.
“I’m pretty glad we didn’t name the businesses, frankly, because the businesses were not engaged in that conduct” that was previously reported, Leavitt said, adding that the county now has information that those businesses were asking employees to go home if they felt sick.
He again declined to name the businesses Tuesday and said disputes over the county’s choice to withhold that information would have to be settled by the State Records Committee, which has the authority to settle record disputes.
Utah County Commissioner Bill Lee said in a statement Tuesday that he has never been told the names of the two businesses and referred all questions about the incident to Leavitt or the Utah County Health Department.
The other county commissioners did not respond to an immediate request for comment.
Leavitt said Tuesday that his office looked into the allegations against the two unnamed businesses after learning about them from the media. But the county attorney has not opened a criminal investigation because it “became abundantly clear that there really was nothing to investigate," he said.
The county has no ongoing investigations into similar allegations.
Leavitt said he wasn’t able to confirm whether one of the two businesses in question was Built Bar, an American Fork-based company that manufactures and distributes nutritional supplements that is currently being sued by an employee who says the company “knowingly, intentionally and recklessly” exposed her and other employees to the coronavirus.
Built Bar has dismissed the merits of that complaint, saying it voluntarily closed to sanitize its entire facility while cases were increasing and put additional safety measures in place to confront the spread of the coronavirus.
“If the businesses wish to self-identify and say, ‘Hey, we were one of those businesses and, yes, it was’t true,’ that’s their business," Leavitt said. "But we’re operating within the guidelines of the health department regulations that prohibit release of the information.”