ST. GEORGE (ABC4 News) – As public health officials and county commissioners work to balance the needs of the economy and keeping citizens of Southwest Utah safe, they’ve announced Monday they’re cautiously encouraging businesses to reopen this week on May 1.
Under a “code orange” or moderate risk category of COVID-19, Washington County commissioners and officials with the Southwest Utah Public Health Department said businesses will reopen this Friday, urging 6 feet of social distancing, the use of face masks in public when maintaining that distance may be difficult, as well as increased cleaning practices and monitoring of coronavirus symptoms.
Leaders in Southwest Utah said they’re changing their COVID-19 strategy as they focus on those most vulnerable — those 65 years and older and individuals with pre-existing medical conditions who are immunocompromised — while keeping local businesses alive.
“There is a lot of concern that we as county commissioners have had for our local businesses and families that have been impacted economically,” chairman of the Washington County Commission Victor Iverson said.
Employers are asked to allow their sick employees to stay home, screen their employees and daily, work to keep their businesses sanitized and safe.
“Everything you want to do in the United States you can do here,” Washington County commissioner Gil Almquist said. “But we want it to be done right, and we want to come back in a safe and sensible way.”
Public health officials are reminding residents of Southwest Utah that those most vulnerable to COVID-19 will still need to take additional measures for a longer period of time.
Dr. David Blodgett, director of the Southwest Utah Public Health Department, said 1% of cases in Utah are of people over the age of 85 years old, but this age group represents 23% of the state’s fatalities.
“We’ve accumulated the data and we’ve watched the trends,” Blodgett said. “We’re encouraged that we’ve had zero cases in people over the age of 80.”
Blodgett said this weekend a woman older than 65 years old with pre-existing medical conditions was the second person in Southwest Utah to succumb to the virus; but, he added that overall, the pandemic has been “very mild” in the area, emphasizing that it’s been two weeks since anyone has been hospitalized with COVID-19 in the 5-county district that includes Washington, Iron, Kane, Beaver, and Garfield counties.
“We are flat plateaued from the beginning to the ending, so we haven’t really had a peak,” Blodgett said. “I am heartened by the many kindnesses I have seen as we have dealt with this as a community. This is a time for the best of all of us to be manifest. This is also a time for faith.”
Public health officials said a stay-at-home order in any part of Southwest Utah will be highly unlikely at this point.
Blodgett added that although conversations to re-open Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park are ongoing with Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, officials have not determined a timeline or any details regarding their reopening.
The City of St. George also announced that effective Tuesday pickle ball, tennis, and sand volleyball courts will reopen.
These developments come as hundreds of locals and tourists from out-of-state showed up to Washington County’s popular state parks this weekend, so many in fact that park officials began turning people away.
State parks were closed to non-county residents for weeks, but last week Governor Herbert announced they are now open to all visitors.
“I encourage Utahns to recreate responsibly. Stay close to home, and practice safe social distancing. Give others at least six-feet of separation on trails, golf courses, fishing docks, overlooks and other areas. Avoid unnecessary risks that may result in hospitalizations. Do not congregate at trailheads and other popular common areas. Stay home if you’re sick, or have symptoms of the coronavirus. Keep parks and recreation areas clean by packing out what you pack in, and respect facility closures like visitor centers, campgrounds and restrooms.”GOVERNOR HERBERT, APRIL 17
Upon hearing the news, Sand Hollow State Park manager Jonathan Hunt, said, “Come visit the park with the group you’ve been spending the last month with. We don’t want neighborhood groups, church groups, school groups, and we don’t want people having events, weddings, or parties here at the park,” he added.
“Due to large crowds we are limiting access to the park today. Beginning around 1:00 we started turning around new customers. Boating parking stalls and beach parking spaces have been completely full,” Hunt announced. “Those with camping reservations are still allowed however we are not allowing new campers and visitors.”
As of Monday, SWUPHD is reporting:
- 89 total confirmed cases, including:
- 59 recovered
- 2 new cases
- 0 currently hospitalized
- 2 deaths (3-26-20 & 4-23-20)
- 5,314 tests performed (as of last report received)
Of the 89 cases, the breakdown for each county includes:
- Washington County: 62
- Iron County: 21
- Kane County: 3
- Beaver County: 0
- Garfield County: 3 (2 new)