Since Davis and Weber-Morgan health departments released updated public health orders last week, residents of Northern Utah have had some questions.

Perhaps the top question is whether these orders require residents to "shelter in place," like what's required of residents in California — and if not, how are our local orders different?

When announcing the Weber-Morgan's department's updated order Thursday, Executive Director Brian Bennion said it was not an order to "shelter in place." 

Lori Buttars, spokesperson for the department, reiterated this point.

"It's not a 'shelter in place,'" Buttars said of the order. "'Shelter in place' is a technical term used for situations when you have to sit inside your home. ... It would be like a gas leak or an earthquake, and then you would get a call at the end that says 'all clear.' ... This is a 'stay at home' order that says 'stay at home as much as possible,' only going out for essential services, (such as) food and pharmacy."

A July 2019 planning document issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the Federal Emergency Management Agency, gives a similar description of the term, emphasizing that shelter-in-place calls for an immediate response, though it defines the term broadly as "the use of a structure to temporarily separate individuals from an outside threat."

On ready.gov/shelter, which provides resources to help people prepare for disasters, the department's guidance does mention pandemics as a possible reason for people to shelter in place. However, the website describes "shelter in place" much as Buttars described, as a shorter term response to an impending or recent disaster, requiring that people immediately bring pets and children inside — and possibly seal windows, doors and air vents. 

A source of confusion, however, is that some states and local jurisdictions aren't using the technical term correctly; they're calling "stay-at-home" orders "shelter in place," Buttars said.

The public health order issued on March 31 in Santa Clara County, California, home to Silicon Valley, is similar to the public health orders in Northern Utah, in that it also allows for essential travel and activities, but it asks residents to "shelter in place."

"Davis County's order is a 'stay-at-home' order," said Isa Perry, spokesperson for Davis County Health Department.

"'Shelter in place' is a lot more restrictive and probably comes with significantly more enforcement," Perry continued. "We do want people to know ours is not a 'shelter in place' or lockdown ... because it's really important for people to realize they can access essential services during this time."

Perry said the Davis department has been contacted with many questions from the community. Residents have asked if they should keep paperwork in their cars proving that they're an essential worker, or if they need paperwork to cross county or state borders, Perry said.

"People can be out and about doing those essential things, which includes work, and accessing the services and household items that they need, so people shouldn't be pulled over and asked for a letter or paperwork," she said.

There are also no travel restrictions, Perry said, and paperwork is not required to cross county lines.

Drivers will not be pulled over because of the local public health order, she said, though law enforcement will continue to stop people who are breaking the law.

In addition, it is alright for parents who share custody of children to take them to each other's residences, she said, as long as the child has not been diagnosed with COVID-19 or exposed to someone who has it. In that case, the child should isolate at the residence where he or she first developed symptoms, so the illness does not spread to the other household.

Perry said that some employers have given their employees documentation to keep in their cars as proof that they're engaged in essential work, and this could be part of what's driving these questions in the community. It's not a problem for employers to provide this documentation, she said, but it's not required.

However, while the department wants people to know it's alright to be engaging in essential tasks, residents are still asked to limit their travel to essential travel and to stay home as much as possible, she said.

In the case of both the Davis and Weber-Morgan health districts, violating the "stay at home" public health orders can be Class A or Class B misdemeanors. However, the aim of both departments is to educate community members, and penalties would only be sought for egregious or repeat offenders, the department directors said at last week's announcements of the updated orders.

"We will try to educate the violator first, but (for) repeat offenders, we will start looking at some of those harsher things," Buttars said. In that case, the department would coordinate with the appropriate county sheriff in the health district, she said.

Contact reporter Megan Olsen at molsen@standard.net or 801-625-4227. Follow her on Twitter at @MeganAOlsen.

See what people are talking about at The Community Table!