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Q&A: Summit County Health Department on its newly issued stay-at-home order

Snowy view of Park City in Summit County. Photo credit: Kyle Haas

SALT LAKE CITY — All residents of Summit County are ordered to stay in their homes. It’s a formal order from the Summit County Health Department that becomes effective Friday, March 27.

Summit County Health Department Director Dr. Richard Bullough joined Jeff Caplan’s Afternoon News to talk about what that order means exactly.

Listen here or read the transcript below

JEFF CAPLAN: There was a ‘stay at home’ Order issued by the Summit County at about 4:15 this afternoon. A lot of people have been asking us questions on the KSL text line and we thought it was best to go right to the source. Joining us live, Dr. Richard Bullough from the Summit County Health Department.

First, tell us what this order says.

DR. RICHARD BULLOUGH: First of all, let me explain why we got there. Summit County is hit proportionally hard. We by far have the highest rates of COVID-19 confirmed cases out of any county in the state of Utah. Many times higher than the next highest state per capita.

We took aggressive action early on and placed orders that restricted certain businesses — closed restaurants, bars, etc. We’ve been tracking the rise of infections and have not been satisfied with the impact our efforts have had. So, we began to go down the road of asking how do we take a more sweeping, macro-approach to addressing this? And we felt like the primary effort we needed to take was the ‘stay at home’ order.

That order, in effect, tells people to stay at home. It discourages people from traveling here, and I want that message to be very clear. We do not want visitors traveling to Summit County at this point in time. We have a high rate of infection. It is important that we maintain our healthcare system, and secure and assure that there are services and resources available for our residents. So, that is one message.

We also want visitors that are here, in rapid time, and in a safe time, leave. The time that we have put in place for their departure is April 1. We are still allowing essential businesses to operate with safe standards in place. Those standards include sanitation, self-monitoring, social distancing. We have identified many of those essential businesses in our ‘stay at home’ order.

It is important we identify really what the intent is here. We need to flatten the curve. Many of you have heard ‘slow the spread’ or ‘flatten the curve,’ etc. But as we see the number of infections rises, our healthcare system is going to be at capacity in a short period of time. Probably somewhere in the ballpark of a couple of weeks. We are trying to buy time, slow the curve, and make sure those resources, care facilities, medical services, and equipment are available for our community and the people who need it.

I do want to note that the Governor has expressed support in our efforts, as has the Utah Department of Health. I also want to note that we are not doing this alone. We have the support of the Summit County Council, Summit County Board of Health, all of the mayors across the county have supported this. We have done it in partnership and we have done it in partnership with our community. An example of a case and point is Pitkin County, Colorado, which is where the ski resort of Aspen is, the town. They issued a very familiar order on Monday, and they did that in response to the same things we are seeing.

The early efforts we have taken are not having the effect that we need. So, we took this additional step today.

CAPLAN: Dr. Bullough, one of the questions I have comes out the situation in Colorado you mentioned, where they don’t want visitors. Is Park City seeing New Yorkers flee here to get away from the virus there?

BULLOUGH: The answer is yes. We have direct evidence that has occurred. We want to discourage that.

As you know, we have a lot of second homeowners here. We certainly can’t say that somebody that owns a second home can’t come here. But we want to be sure that people understand that they should not be traveling here, especially if they’ve been exposed, or traveling from an area of high risk. I’m not going to name the specific communities, but you’ve heard them on the news. Areas of high risk, and a high proportion of infection across the country, and large population density areas — city centers — some of those individuals do have properties here. They are coming here.

It is important to note that we have a significant number of Airbnb, etc. This order specifically discourages travel, asks people to leave, and prohibits lodging. So, it is specific to people traveling here.

CAPLAN: Dr. Bullough, I’m getting asked a lot of ‘what about’ questions from our text line. First of all, is a ‘stay at home’ Order the same as a ‘shelter in place’ order? The kinds of things we’ve been hearing about from all over the country?

BULLOUGH: Yes, it is. The ‘stay at home’ order we feel is more descriptive of what we’re asking people to do. I’m 62-years old and I think back to the lessons that I first heard about potential nuclear war, and then I heard the same messages related to earthquake… and they all involve shelter.

We’re just simply asking people to stay at home. Do what you normally do in your home. We are not prohibiting individuals, for example, if they want to get out and go for a walk, they should get out and go for a walk. They should not gather at trailheads. I’m visualizing some of the areas in downtown Salt Lake. It is not wise for anyone to gather in groups in these places. There is absolutely nothing wrong, in Summit County, or anywhere, to leave your home, walk out the door, get a little bit of exercise, get a little bit of sunshine, feel better, be healthy. That’s not what we’re discouraging here. It’s important that we all be well, and the intent of orders like this is to maintain wellness. And that’s not just an absence of sickness. Wellness means that you are active, that you are psychologically well. So, it’s important that you get out, get some sunshine.

One of the questions I’ve heard, “Can we drive through Summit County?” — yes, you can drive through Summit County. Basically, the order is what is says — stay at home. But within limits.

CAPLAN: What if you live in Park City but work in Salt Lake? Can you drive to work?

BULLOUGH: Yes, you can drive to work. It’s important to note, though, that there are more and more options to telecommute. I strongly advise businesses out there, whether they’re in Summit County or not, to be focusing on allowing telecommuting.

We understand that doesn’t apply to every industry. In those situations, everything still remains in place — social distancing, no gatherings greater than 10. That implies people don’t gather around and eat lunch together. There are ways to do this that are not going to be so prohibitive that everything is closed down.

People need to understand, we are operating under the assumption that we have all been exposed. That we are potentially carriers. That really drives home the message that we need to distance. We shouldn’t be packed into an office space. We need to be smart about this.

CAPLAN: What is an essential business? People have differing opinions about what is essential. But, you have a list that’s been published by Summit County?

BULLOUGH: Yes, it’s in the Order. People can also call. I really encourage individuals who are curious about this along the Wasatch Front, but only curious, please do not call this line. We et up a line that we are calling a ‘community concerns line’ and it is intended to answer questions primarily from individuals from Summit County. But, they can call that line and get more specific information.

In a nutshell, they are services that provide services for others. Those can be elderly, they can be children, they are services tied to a medical service. That includes hospital services, some dentistry under certain precautions, physical therapy, pharmacies, those kinds of issues.

There are some other businesses we’ve identified as essential and those include construction and building, with certain limits. There is a lot of information in that Order and if you have any questions, go ahead and follow up, and we can provide more detail. But, most of the information is in the Order itself.

CAPLANDr. Bullough, I have one more question and it’s about enforcement. Are you going to be issuing tickets, putting people in jail for congregating? What does that look like? 

BULLOUGH: Well, first of all, there are Class B Misdemeanors tied to egregious violations. Attornies across the state, their training, and their job is to use discretion. They are not going to be applying this randomly. Our law enforcement in Summit County, we’ve had thorough conversations about enforcement.

It’s going to take egregious, in your face, violations. So, individuals or organizations that are intentionally fighting this order and it comes to our attention. If we get repeated complaints about specific individuals, organizations, or events, or if people are profiting off of the Order, then we will consider taking action.

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The ‘stay at home’ Order goes into effect on Friday, March 27th at 12:01 a.m. If you would more information, please visit Summit County’s website here.