OGDEN — Weber and Morgan counties remain in the low-risk phase of the state’s COVID-19 guidance system, but local health officials say that label might be deceiving.
According to the Utah Department of Health, most counties in the state currently sit in the “yellow” or low-risk phase to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. The protocol asks Utahns to do things like limit gatherings to 50 people or fewer, stay at least 6 feet from other individuals and wear face coverings when social distancing can’t be practiced.
A handful of rural counties are in the green, or new normal phase, which calls for the same social distancing measures in the yellow phase but allows for large gatherings, so long as increased hygiene and distancing measures can be maintained.
But with positive cases of the virus surging across much of Northern Utah, Jesse Bush, division director of Health Promotions with the Weber-Morgan Health Department, said the yellow tab isn’t necessarily indicative of the current risk landscape in the two county health department coverage area. Bush said the color-coded guidance system likely hasn’t been “appropriately received by the community at large.”
“The yellow, green, red, orange — any of those color phases are also connected to our economic indicators, not necessarily directly correlated and related to health indicators,” Bush said. “(The current risk situation in Weber and Morgan counties) is more indicative of a red or orange right now.”
Salt Lake City is the only city in Utah currently under the orange, or moderate-risk phase, which recommends gatherings be kept to 20 people or less and advises against out of state travel.
Bush said that as of July 7, the health department has confirmed 1,303 positive cases of COVID-19, with 14 deaths and 23,489 people tested. The health department reported 305 new coronavirus cases for the week ending July 4, 66 more new cases than was seen the week before. Since June 6, when the case count was 398, positive cases have more than tripled in the two-county area.
“(The curve) is not flattening,” Bush said. “We had such high hopes, we thought we hit our spike...we did a pretty good job for first 2 months...but now there is quite a dramatic increase.”
During a Tuesday Ogden City Council work session, council members discussed the possibility of adopting a formal resolution or ordinance that encouraged or required city residents to wear masks in certain settings. Bush said Ogden has seen 832 positive cases of coronavirus, 64% of the two-county area’s total. According to the UHD, the city of Springdale, Grand County, Salt Lake County and Summit County all have local mask requirements.
Council member Rich Hyer said he’s seen conflicting research about the effectiveness of masks, but Bush said while they aren’t aren’t a “panacea,” based on current research and scientific review, the department has concluded masks decrease the transmission of the virus.
“If we know they help slow the spread, why aren’t we more proactive about requiring people to wear them?,” said Council member Luis Lopez. Lopez said he plans to approach council members privately to discuss options for a resolution or ordinance.
Council Executive Director Janene Eller-Smith said that if the council and city administration agreed on a mask ordinance, the health department and state would have the final say in whether or not it could be adopted.