SALT LAKE CITY – Utah could be weeks away from lifting long-standing health restrictions put in place by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The law project, dubbed the “COVID-19 endgame”, will begin to end public health orders once the state meets certain criteria for virus cases, hospitalizations and vaccinations. Right now, the latest numbers show Utah has met two of the three most critical under the law.
“We’re probably three weeks away, maybe four weeks,” House Speaker Brad Wilson of R-Kaysville said in an interview with FOX 13 on Wednesday.
House Bill 294, which ended the mask’s statewide mandate last week, would also lift restrictions on the size of gatherings and the physical distancing imposed. The Utah state legislature passed the bill earlier this year. While Governor Spencer Cox was somewhat critical of it, but signed it because he negotiated with the legislature on some of its terms, in particular with the mask mandate.
By law, health orders begin to be terminated once Utah reaches a 14-day case rate of less than 191 per 100,000 population; when ICU hospitalization is on average less than 15%, specifically for viral patients and when 1.63 million people receive their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
As of Wednesday, Utah’s case rate was 173.4; the ICU rate for COVID patients was 10.1%; and vaccination was 1.1 million people with first-order doses.
“The state is making great progress in achieving the parameters set out in HB294. We have reached the case rate and the parameters of intensive care use and continue to make progress towards achieving the metrics assigned to the main doses as well,” said the Utah Department of Health in a statement to FOX 13. “We are monitoring these metrics closely and will be ready to work with the appropriate elected leaders to adjust course if necessary.”
This is promising news, but President Wilson has always called for caution.
“We are grateful that the news is improving every week in terms of numbers. But we still have to be careful, there are members of our community who haven’t had a chance to get a vaccine who want one. “, did he declare. “We have to be aware and respectful of these people until they have this opportunity.”
Until more people are vaccinated, the governor and health officials urged people to continue wearing masks in public places. Governor Cox issued an order requiring face covers at all state-run facilities like liquor stores, driver’s license offices and Capitol Hill. Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson has issued one for all county owned facilities. Grand County and Salt Lake City have adopted new mask mandates.
Senate Minority Whip Luz Escamilla of D-Salt Lake City said it was great news.
“People are getting vaccinated. The answer is good. But you still have pockets,” she told FOX 13 on Wednesday. “Especially in my district on the west side of Salt Lake City and West Valley City, where vaccination rates are extremely low. “
Senator Escamilla said that in some particularly low-income and underserved communities, vaccination rates are as low as 20% compared to other parts of Utah where they are as high as 60%. She is pushing for late night or Sunday vaccination clinics in neighborhoods where people often work two or three jobs and cannot take time off work to get vaccinated.
“It worries me that we feel too relaxed, we might end up with another push,” Senator Escamilla warned. “I’m glad the numbers continue to look positive.”
Meanwhile, the Utah State Legislature is planning a special session next month to spend $ 1.5 billion in federal government COVID-19 relief funds. The state as a whole will receive about $ 8 billion, President Wilson said.
Senate Speaker J. Stuart Adams R-Layton said he would likely spend the money on infrastructure projects, including transportation and expanding Internet access statewide.
“We’re looking for things that move the needle and that maybe have a multigenerational impact, things that we couldn’t do otherwise,” he told FOX 13.
There is talk of lawmakers implementing some COVID-related bills during the special session. An idea under discussion would lift the statewide mask mandate that remains in place for all K-12 schools. But President Adams has expressed a desire for a downtime on COVID legislation.
“Right now, I think maybe we just need to take a deep breath and celebrate the fact that we are the best economy in the whole country and we are getting out of the vaccines,” he said. “We have almost 40 to 50% of our population with the first vaccinations.”