COVID-19 data continues to drive public health decisions

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SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – Data continues to play an important role in navigating life during the COVID-19 pandemic. And state leaders announced a new system that will track COVID-19 in every Utah county – which will determine the number of people allowed at casual, social gatherings.

High, moderate or low levels of transmission are terms officials with the Utah Department of Health will now use to address Utah’s 29 counties (every Thursday) and their response to COVID-19.

“Being able to really use the data to drive the impact and the intervention on the ground level and counties is really a step in the right direction. So, I’m excited to see this play out,” said state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn.

Public health officials will analyze three key areas to determine a county’s level: case and positivity rate, and ICU utilization.

If a county meets two of the three criteria, it will be moved to one of the three levels of transmission.

“Counties may move to a higher level of restriction based on the data, weekly,” said Rich Saunders, the health department’s interim director. “And may move to a lower transmission level every 14 days to demonstrate a little more stability before we move to a lesser transmission level.”

This level also determines the number of people allowed at casual, social gatherings.

“Our goal is not to separate family or friends or to remove fun and social things that are so important to humanity,” said Rich. “Our focus is right now during this pandemic, to make an adjustment because it makes a difference for our long-term future.”

For counties in a high-level, a newly issued public health order asks Utahns to have no more than 10 people in a casual, social gathering. In moderate, there should be no more than 25 people, but until Oct. 29, no more than 10. In low-level areas, there should be no more than 50 people.

“Because we let down our guard in these settings, it’s a popular point of viral spread,” Saunders said. “The virus doesn’t care how much we love to be around each other and how much fun we want to have.”

During the briefing, a reporter asked Governor Gary Herbert if there is a civil penalty for those who do not follow the order. Herbert said he hopes people will act accordingly and use good judgement.

“We can all control our own destiny by changing our behavior,” Hebert said. “By obeying restrictions outlined with this new data-driven system.”

Hebert continued to say the restrictions are in an effort to lessen the rate of infection, maintain a low mortality rate and help to not overwhelm the public healthcare system and its medical professionals.

Being a realist, Herbert said he knows some people refuse to wear a mask and follow public health order, and he hopes they will choose otherwise.

“I would hope that people – rather than have it as a political statement – use it as a sign of respect for their fellow neighbors, family members, and their concern that we have collectively as a state that we have good health.”

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