SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – As Utah’s economy continues to reopen, Governor Gary Herbert said the Beehive State is ready to move into its next phase of the Utah Leads Together health and economic recovery plan.

Hebert said in five weeks’ time,  Utahns have met the requirements to pass through Utah Leads Together plan 1.0 and 2.0 and said he’s ready to move the state into phase three (3.0).

“The plans have helped us,” Herbert said. “What we need to do and how to do it.”

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Hebert said Utah Leads Together 3.0 offers a bold vision for how to match recovery efforts with powerful economic trends that will drive future economic growth, improve our quality of life, and leave Utah economically and socially stronger than before.

“People fear for their lives, their livelihood – that’s the number one concern of the pandemic now is, ‘What about my job?’ What about economic recovery?’” Hebert said.

As the state enters phase three, a majority of the state will stay in the low-risk (yellow) level, and Hebert said by the end of the week he hopes Summit and Wasatch counties – who are currently in the moderate-risk (orange) level – will join the low-risk category, too.

State continues to reopen, officials say decisions are data-driven

As the state’s economy continues to reopen he said he’s pleased with how quickly Utah continues to move through each phase as the state works toward recovery and a new normal.

“It’s a road to travel,” Hebert said. “That will get us from the pandemic to in fact recovery and success economically and protecting people’s lives along the way as well as their livelihood is in fact working.”

As Utahns begin to go out to more places, Natalie Gochnour, a University of Utah Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute director, emphasizes the importance of balancing health and economy.

“The best thing our state can do is follow public health guidance and stay engaged with the economy, and as we do that, we will continue to recover more quickly than other states,” said Gochnour.

When Hebert and state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn were asked about a timetable for the state to move into the new normal (green) level, they said their decisions are data-driven.

“But we’d like to do it as quick as we can,” Herbert said. “But at the same time, we don’t want to jeopardize the progress we’ve made by having an untowards surge of the coronavirus in our community.”

“In terms of timeline of going to green, I just don’t have that on me right now,” Dunn said. “Our data don’t currently support it, but again, we’re looking at that every day and evaluating, and things as we know change so quickly.”

Phase three aims to help high-risk and multicultural communities

As part of phase three, Hebert also said it aims to help high-risker and multicultural communities impacted by COVID-19.

“Seventy percent of the people who have passed away are older than 65; 90 percent of them are over 65 (that have passed away) and have underlying healthcare issues,” Herbert said.

And Dunn said those at higher risk are indeed over 65, may live in a long-term care facility or have an underlying medical condition.   

“Some of our highest infection rates are in our minority communities – particularly, Latino and Hispanic,” Herbert said. “We’re concerned about that, and it will be addressed.”

Byron Russell, the Utah Multicultural Commission co-chair, said COVID-19 data shows that the pandemic does not impact lives equally.

“We are aware that Utah has a population of the Hispanic/Latino community of 14.2 percent, and that make up is contrasted by those who are affected at 38.1 percent,” Byron said.

He said he has optimism for impacted multicultural communities, saying people should learn the facts of disparity, address immediate needs and to build structure to fix the systemic disparity for a lasting prosperity.

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“And I say that because while we have addressed the specific of our priorities, truly, the pandemic stresses and the exposure of these systemic vulnerabilities have been noted in the social determinates of health,” Russell  said.

To keep Utah communities with high-risk populations safe, she said those who are at a lower-risk should be mindful of those around them.

“Wearing a mask when social distancing is not possible, staying home when you’re Ill, using really good hand hygiene and even helping those high-risk individuals stay healthy,” Dunn said.

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