Moving Rural Utah to Green

Since the convening of our state’s coronavirus task force, Utah’s response to the pandemic has been one of data-informed judgement and prudent decision making. Limiting the spread of the coronavirus and reactivating the economy are not mutually exclusive realities, and having an adaptable response plan is key to achieving both goals.

As we move from stabilization to recovery, the health guidance in our communities will vary because of different conditions across the state. Thus, is it not always practical to treat overall case data as rigid guides for how every locality should act. This is particularly true for a state like Utah, where about 75 percent of our state’s population is contained within four of our most densely populated counties near the Wasatch front (Davis, Salt Lake, Utah, and Wasatch). Because of this reality, state leaders often rely on both local granular data alongside macro state data, in addition to advice from local health departments when making their decisions. 

Using this approach, Governor Herbert approved requests for the following nine counties to transition to Green, or New Normal Health Risk Status: Beaver, Daggett, Duchesne, Emery, Garfield, Millard, Piute, Uintah and Wayne on June 19, 2020 at 1:00 pm. 

Although these areas account for a wide swath of Utah’s geography, they only contain roughly three percent of Utah’s population. Because of the existing rural lifestyle in these areas, physical distancing is commonplace and there are naturally fewer opportunities for the virus to spread. Of course, no area is completely free from risk, and simply because these counties are moving to Green does not mean the personal responsibility of the residents of these areas to follow health guidance has disappeared. The move to green will only be sustainable if these areas stay healthy.

By contrast, many of the areas where case incidence has risen recently have been in some of our most densely populated regions. Here, the potential threat to hospital capacity from increasing case counts in these areas remains a concern. The nine remote counties moving to green does not indicate a lack of forbearance and ignorance of our current case numbers. Rather, it is further evidence of the state’s data-informed and adaptable approach

Even in the Green Risk Status, the word “risk” is still present. This is because we still do not have a vaccine, the virus has not been eradicated, and all are still at risk of infection. As we re-engage economically, we need greater personal responsibility, not less. Utahns must continue to keep each other safe through common-sense physical distancing, mask-wearing, staying home when sick, and regular hand washing. Through unified efforts to follow health guidance in our communities, we hasten our return to normalcy while protecting those at risk. 

You can view the full executive order attached below.