OGDEN — Weber County leaders have expanded the order meant to prevent the spread of coronavirus, directing a range of businesses where close human-to-human contact typically occurs to shut their doors, at least for the near term.
Brian Bennion, head of the Weber-Morgan Health Department, which serves Weber and Morgan counties, is also asking the public to avoid social gatherings involving people outside their households, even in groups numbering fewer than 10.
“Instead of allowing people to socialize in groups of 10, we are recommending that they don’t do that, they don’t gather so that the spread of disease will be slowed down,” Bennion said Thursday in announcing the changes. Instead, he said, people should “stay at home except to engage in essential activities,” like going to work, at least to the extent permitted under the new order.
The updated order stays in effect through at least April 16, though it could be extended. It is meant to coincide with orders implemented in more populated counties along the Wasatch Front, like Davis County’s, which was updated on Wednesday.
People aren’t ordered to stay home, as they might be in the aftermath of a natural disaster, like an earthquake or tornado, Bennion emphasized. “We’re asking just to stay safe and stay at home,” he said. Travel should be limited to “necessary and urgent matters as much as possible.”
The businesses ordered closed per the order include barber shops, hair salons, tattoo parlors, and entertainment and recreation venues like aquariums, arcades, fitness centers and bowling alleys. An explanation of the changes crafted by the health department describes the impacted businesses as those “that act as gathering places or involve unavoidable close contact between people.”
Prohibitions on dine-in service at restaurants continue, though such locales may offer carryout service. The county listed a range of other businesses that may remain open, like grocery stories, hardware stores and more, though employees exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms must not be allowed on worksites.
“Decisions to limit activities in our vibrant communities are not made lightly. We are asking people to take these preventative measures seriously and stay at home as much as possible to help us move beyond this urgent phase and avoid social gatherings,” Bennion said.
One of the underlying aims is to prevent a surge in coronavirus cases that overwhelms local hospitals, which so far hasn’t occurred. As of Thursday’s press conference, 48 confirmed coronavirus cases had been discovered in Weber County with another four in Morgan County. That’s up from four confirmed cases in the two counties as of March 18, two weeks ago.
Businesses that don’t comply with dictates of the updated order could face citations. Violations of local public health orders are potentially Class A or Class B misdemeanors. The aim, however, is to urge voluntary compliance via education.
“The purpose of this order is to protect individuals’ health, not to hold them criminally liable. However, if there are repeat offenders, there may be some citations,” Bennion said. The health department “has asked local municipalities to enforce the public health order initially via warnings rather than citations.”
Weber County Commissioner Jim Harvey said he hopes those impacted by the changes will voluntarily comply without enforcement measures needed. “My hope is they’ll use their better judgment,” he said.
Weber County Commissioner Scott Jenkins lauded efforts of the public thus far to take steps to stymie the spread of COVID-19. “We’re doing a good job. You’ve got to work with us here and keep doing what we’re doing. This will pass and we’ll get through it, but it takes everybody’s effort to do it,” Jenkins said.
Per Thursday’s announcement, park playground areas are also closed. Parks themselves remain open, but users are asked to maintain social distancing, effectively prohibiting team sports.
“Residents are asked to be responsible while spending time outside by always maintaining 6 feet from other people outside of their household. People should not congregate at trailheads or other outdoor spaces,” reads the health department explanation of the changes.
Local health officials also advise against letting kids play with their friends. “It is best for them to remain at home to keep them safe and to keep the community safe. However, kids can stay in touch with their friends through texting, phone calls or video chats,” according to the health department statement.