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Weber, Davis, Morgan counties to ease coronavirus restrictions on businesses

By Tim Vandenack standard-Examiner - | Apr 22, 2020
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Davis County Commissioner Lorene Kamalu speaks at a press conference on Wednesday, April 22, 2020, to announce easing of coronavirus-inspired public health orders in Davis, Weber and Morgan counties effective May 2, 2020. She put on the mouth covering to demonstrate the sort of guidelines that may apply at some businesses per the planned changes. Officials from the three counties took part in the press conference, held at Davis County Commission chambers in Farmington.

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Weber County Commissioner Gage Froerer speaks at a press conference on Wednesday, April 22, 2020, to announce the easing of coronavirus-inspired public health orders in Davis, Weber and Morgan counties effective May 2, 2020. Officials from the three counties took part in the press conference, held at Davis County Commission chambers in Farmington.

FARMINGTON — Restaurants, gyms, hair salons and other businesses in Weber and Davis counties that have been forced to scale back operations or close due to coronavirus restrictions may see an easing of the rules come May 2.

Officials on Wednesday announced plans to implement looser guidelines once coronavirus public health orders now in effect through May 1 expire. Guidelines on things like social distancing and use of protective masks will likely remain in effect. But the coming changes will give restaurants that can now sell only take-out offerings and shuttered businesses leeway to reopen and normalize operations, or at least start to.

Weber County Commissioner Gage Froerer, joined by several other officials from Weber, Davis and Morgan counties, dubbed it a “soft opening.” County leaders met with representatives from the Weber-Morgan and Davis County health departments in deciding on the change. They also consulted with the administration of Gov. Gary Herbert and will follow guidelines — to be released next week by state officials — governing the reopening of Utah businesses impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

“We view that Weber, Davis, Morgan will be at moderate risk by May 1 and that’s why we’ll be moving forward with this plan,” Froerer said. Though any changes wouldn’t take effect until May 2, the aim by making the announcement now is to give impacted businesses time for things like preparing their supply chains and lining up employees.

There will be “industry-specific guidelines” for businesses to follow in ramping up operations as the coronavirus risk lingers on. “At the same time, we put trust in our businesses that they will do what’s right to maintain … customer satisfaction and customer health,” Froerer said.

Though Wednesday’s announcement paves the way for many impacted businesses to normalize operations, it doesn’t cover everything. Froerer said officials have yet to address how to allow a resumption of “events and entertainment,” that is, public activities and venues that typically draw large crowds.

Per the health order governing Weber and Morgan counties, covered by a unified health department, numerous businesses have been ordered shut, including hair and nail salons, tattoo parlors, gyms, theaters and more. Restaurants have been ordered to halt their dine-in operations. The action, aimed at preventing the new coronavirus’ spread, has led to a spike in unemployment and worries about the long-term impact to the U.S. economy. More recently, there have been a spate of protests around the country, including one last Saturday in Salt Lake City, by some who view such government-imposed restrictions as heavy-handed.

Davis County Commissioner Lorene Kamalu, though, defended the action in the three-county Northern Utah area as appropriate. Wednesday’s press conference — with all the officials present spread out, some of them wearing protective masks — was held at the Davis County Commission chambers in Farmington.

“We feel in Davis County and along with Weber and Morgan County that we nailed it. We feel like we threaded a very small needle,” Kamalu said. Health officials advised county leaders that combatting something like the coronavirus is about timing to prevent a spike in illnesses, “because if you act too late you have missed the opportunity.”

She further noted state code that gives health departments their authority and, more broadly, the provision of the U.S. Constitution that gives powers not reserved to the federal government to the states. “This is a local emergency and a local challenge,” she said.

Morgan County Councilman Robert McConnell, meantime, expressed a measure of relief that things may be easing. Aside from increased joblessness, coronavirus concerns have led to the closing of schools and kept many people homebound to prevent the spread of the ailment. “With respect to going forward, it is nice to at least perceive some light at the end of a difficult tunnel,” he said.

Davis County Health Department Director Brian Hatch said the restrictions aimed at combatting coronavirus have done what they were supposed to, allowing for the changes announced Wednesday.

“We have been effective and I stand today excited,” he said. “But I still am cautions. This is not over.”

Indeed, the easing of restrictions will be gradual, he said, likening the change to the use of a dimmer switch to increase lighting in a room little by little. “We’re going to begin turning up the light and moving forward over the next little while,” he said.

Weber and Morgan counties reported 134 coronavirus cases as of Wednesday, 125 of them in Weber County. There had been two deaths. Davis County reported 249 cases and two deaths, while the statewide figures were 3,445 coronavirus cases and 34 deaths.

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