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Erin Mendenhall: Salt Lake City is not through the weeds yet

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall wears a face mask before speaking during the media briefing at the Capitol, April 8, 2020.

Spring temperatures and children perpetually home from school can make the walls of our homes feel confining but, in our lifetimes, it has never been so critical to stay at home.

While state or countywide data may compel leaders to loosen the Stay Safe, Stay Home order, let me be clear — Salt Lake City is not through the weeds, yet.

Our city is the most impacted in the state and we still need people to make sacrifices to protect the lives of our neighbors. Thankfully, Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson has understood how serious this is and her retraction of the “stay home” public health order only made one change — you can walk into a restaurant to order instead of calling — but the public impression has been that we are back to normal. We are not.

“Stay Safe, Stay Home” was conceived by Gov. Gary Herbert’s administration to minimize the spread of the highly contagious and deadly COVID-19 virus, and the statewide data shows that these measures, coupled with social distancing and mask wearing in public, has been working well. Still, Salt Lake County Health Department data shows that, at a city-specific level, the spread of this virus is hitting some harder than others.

Salt Lake City neighborhoods are the most impacted by COVID-19 — our downtown and West Side communities. County health data shows dramatically higher rates of infection of Latinx, native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, black and African American residents. Systemic inequities are magnified in any crisis. Our city team is working hard to listen, fulfill unmet needs and support solutions that have already been created by these resilient communities. Our goal, as city government, is to evolve as we learn and serve our people. This pandemic is both a trial and an opportunity to do just that.

As community members, we all need to respect the fact that many who carry the virus will never show symptoms but are contagious, and that by wearing a mask and continuing to socially distance, we are protecting ourselves and everyone else.

The CDC now advises, “Avoid large and small gatherings in private places and public spaces, such as a friend’s house, parks, restaurants, shops, or any other place.”

As hard as it may be, both economically and socially, our desire to return to “normal” must be guided by public health data. Fortunately, we know what thresholds we need to reach.

Herbert and Dr. Angela Dunn, the state’s epidemiologist, gave sound advice in the Utah Leads Together plan on what metrics will help us know when to begin to reopen.

We are watching Salt Lake City-specific data to show a rate of spread under 1:1 (for every positive case, fewer than one person is infected by that case) for two weeks. We also need to see consistent availability of testing and contact tracing throughout our city, and a consistent decrease in the number of cases with no known source of infection (an indicator of community spread).

Decisions to reopen should be guided by data, not dates. This isn’t about a timeline, it’s about the results of our work to diminish the spread of COVID-19.

Until we are showing the consistent improvements we know we need, we should all be making these sacrifices for doctors, nurses, medical workers, first responders, front-line workers and everyone else in our community and families who are most at risk right now.

Salt Lake City is resilient and innovative. We will not only recover but have the opportunity through our return to be more of who we want to be —as individuals, as communities, as a city. More equitable, more connected, and stronger, together.

Our city government will continue to work with an open heart to learn from our people and, eventually, build back to a normalcy that can be better than what we left in early March.

Erin Mendenhall

Erin Mendenhall is the mayor of Salt Lake City.

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