The Utah Department of Health announced today that Provo and Orem will move from the yellow (low risk) phase to orange (moderate risk) phase, effective Sept. 23 at 11:59 p.m.
Utah State Epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn said Utah County is the main driver of the statewide increase in COVID-19 cases and Provo and Orem specifically account for over 57% Utah County’s cases last week.
Gov. Gary Herbert and Executive Director of Utah Department of Health Rich Saunders mentioned this is the first time the state has had to roll backwards. “We’re seeing movement in the wrong direction,” Saunders said.
The three main indicators used to determine the forward or backward movement of risk phases are trends in cases, hospitalization utilization and percent positivity according to Saunders.
Saunders and Herbert said they want to do everything they can to get Provo and Orem out of orange and back to yellow, and hopefully green, as soon as possible. Saunders and Herbert also mentioned Utah County is considering a county wide mask mandate, which they are in support of.
Provo and Orem are the only cities in Utah County changing from yellow to orange, and Herbert said after talking to local officials he believes this is the acceptable step for the time being.
Some of the guidelines in the orange phase include gatherings limited to 20 or less people, limiting out of state travel and stricter regulations with dine-in restaurants. For more specific guidelines and restrictions included in the orange phase, see Utah’s coronavirus website.
Saunders said the one exception granted in moving to the orange phase for Provo and Orem will be allowing team sports to continue, but without spectators.
Dunn said anyone who has any one of the six symptoms, or is closely exposed to someone who tested positive, must get tested.
Herbert said he understands that life is stressful under current circumstances, but says we all need to work together to do our part in stopping the spread. “A little pain now will be a lot better than a lot of pain later,” Herbert said. He also said the FDA believes there will be a vaccine by the end of the year. “All of us need to be concerned for all parts of our population.”
Herbert repeatedly said everyone has the challenge of doing their part, and it’s not anyone’s fault when someone gets sick. “There’s no such thing as zero cases, there’s no such thing as zero risk,” Herbert said. “It’s OK to get sick, but it’s not OK to put others at risk.”
Provo Mayor Michelle Kaufusi sent out a statement responding to the press conference.
“Provo City now begins the task of determining additional restrictions required by Governor Herbert’s directive and will be communicating these changes to our citizens,” Kaufusi said.”We hope the Governor’s announcement is not a cause of discouragement to our citizens and business owners, but rather becomes an incentive to show how effective we can be when we fight COVID-19 together.”
Brad Wilson, Speaker of the Utah House of Representatives, also provided a statement following the press conference.
“I share the governor’s strong concern with the rapid increase in COVID-19 cases in Orem and Provo, which trace overwhelmingly to university students now living in that area,” Wilson said. “The restrictions of Orange status will have a real and negative impact on businesses in those cities and the families they support, which is all the more unfortunate because of how avoidable this spike was.”
Wilson also said the changes to Provo and Orem going back to the orange phase while other counties, such as Rich County, are moving into the green phase is why he doesn’t support a statewide mask mandate. “Such a policy imposes a one-size-fits-all solution when a more targeted approach, led by local leaders whenever possible, is effective without forcing counties where cases are lower to operate under the heavy hand of government,” he said.