ST. GEORGE (ABC4 News) — Officials in Southwest Utah say Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and the Utah Department of Health have denied their written request to move to the “yellow” or “low risk” reopening phase of COVID-19, after the state recently moved to the “orange” or “moderate risk” phase May 1.
St. George Mayor Jon Pike tells ABC4 News that mayors and county commissioners throughout Washington, Iron, and Kane counties as well as the Southwest Utah Public Health Department (SWUPHD) were all on board to move to the “yellow” stage, but the state told them Monday they believe the transition is too soon.
“Yellow more aptly or more accurately reflects our reality here in Southwest Utah,” Pike said. “The Governor’s Office expressed to me verbally that they’re frankly anxious to consider some of our regional differences, and they would like to honor that. They just feel like May 1 was a little fast.”
Pike said state officials believe they need to monitor a potential spike in COVID-19 cases under the “orange” re-opening guidelines for at least several weeks before loosening restrictions further.
Local leaders throughout Southwest Utah, including the SWUPHD, have said numerous times they believe the pandemic has been ‘very mild’ in their area, considering an overall low case count, low hospitalization rates, and the majority of cases considered recovered — Pike tells ABC4 News the state is considering all of this under the governor’s “Utah Leads Together” plan.
“They said, ‘Hang on, we’re wanting to make sure as a state that going to orange doesn’t cause us undue concern,’” Pike added.
SWUPHD spokesperson David Heaton said the public health department’s current goal is not to stop the spread of COVID-19, but to protect the most vulnerable populations while allowing others to support the economy.
“Three of our counties are quite rural, including 2 which have only 3 cases each and one county, Beaver County, which has had zero cases reported during the pandemic,” Heaton said. “We have ample testing resources now, which may have actually contributed to a bump in recent cases, especially in Washington County.”
Under the “yellow” phase, health officials said the public would still be asked to social distance and wear face masks when necessary, but groups up to 50 people could gather. City officials in Southwest Utah say that could help out the restaurant and entertainment industries and allow them to loosen restrictions for public areas, such as pools.
“The transition from yellow to orange is really not a big difference, but it really allows the rest of our businesses to open up more fully,” Heaton added. “It allows social gatherings to be up to 50, but other than there’s really not much of a difference. There’s still a lot of precautions in place as far as social distancing that we would ask our population to follow.”
Leaders in Southwest Utah said the state will reconsider their request to shift to “yellow” around May 15th.