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Utah governor: No economic shut down despite virus spread

By Staff | Jun 23, 2020

FILE - In this April 15, 2020, file photo, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert wears a mask during a news conference at Salt Lake International Airport in Salt Lake City. State leaders said Wednesday, June 17, 2020, that updated plans intended to help drive economic recovery won't compromise the health of residents even though the state is experiencing a multi-week rise in cases. Herbert said the increase in cases was somewhat expected because many businesses were allowed to reopen starting in May and restrictions on how many people can gather together have been loosened. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Gov. Gary Herbert says he has no plans to shut down the economy even though he shares some of the concerns of the state’s epidemiologist, who warned a “complete shutdown” might be imminent if the state can’t stop a prolonged spike of coronavirus cases.

Herbert tweeted late Monday night that he appreciated the analysis by epidemiologist Angela Dunn in her memo. It detailed the seriousness of a spread of COVID-19 that has doubled the infection rate and daily case count since Herbert allowed many businesses to reopen in mid-May.

“We will work to stem this tide, but I have no plans to shut down Utah’s economy,” tweeted the Republican governor, who isn’t seeking reelection after holding the post since 2009.

Utah is one of nearly two dozen states dealing with rising case rates following reopenings.

Herbert’s tweet came after his office issued a different statement Monday afternoon that expressed his shared concern but didn’t include the vow not to shut down the economy.

He has pointed to his decision to gradually lift restrictions allowing restaurants, gyms, pools and salons to reopen as a key reason why Utah has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country. Herbert has said the state can begin to recover economically without risking people’s health.

Dunn’s memo, which was sent Friday to Herbert and other leaders overseeing the COVID-19 response, was made public on Monday after news media obtained the internal memo.

Dunn recommended that the state reimpose some restrictions on businesses and group gatherings unless the state lowers it’s weekly average to 200 cases per day by July 1. The state has averaged 471 cases per day over the last week following a steady increase in positive rates over the last month, state figures show.

The surge in cases isn’t being driven by any major outbreak or attributed to more testing alone, leading Dunn to believe community spread is rising as people spend more time together.

“We are quickly getting to a point where the only viable option to manage spread and deaths will be a complete shutdown,” Dunn wrote in a memo released by the state Department of Health. “This might be our last chance for course correction. Contact tracing and testing alone will not control this outbreak.”

Herbert has repeatedly urged state residents to practice social distancing and wear masks, but has stopped short of requiring face coverings.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe life-threatening illness, including pneumonia, and death. Utah has tallied 158 confirmed deaths from COVID-19.

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