After Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and state public health officials debuted a new COVID-19 Transmission Index on Oct. 13, restrictions in various counties throughout the state were changed to reflect a new way of calculating the risks of a coronavirus outbreak. A statewide surge in cases and concerns about hospital capacity triggered an emergency COVID-19 message to cellular phones throughout the state after 2,292 new cases were reported on Oct. 30. Just days before, the Blanding City Council sent a letter to the governor’s office disapproving of the new transmission index on Oct. 27.

“The latest changes at the State level to pivot to a transmission index, and the recent mask mandate by the Governor, has gone too far and doesn’t take into account the many differences between each Public Health Agency and area in the State,” the letter, signed by Mayor Joe Lyman and councilmembers Cheryl Bowers, Robert Turk, Logan Monson and Logan Shumway reads. “We are concerned about the harm this will cause for our local businesses and the emotional distress for our citizens and have determined that we must make our stance clear.”

Utah’s COVID-19 Transmission Index is based on the seven-day average percent of positive tests, the 14-day case rate per 100,000 people and intensive care unit usage throughout the state. San Juan County was moved from the moderate transmission level to the high level on Oct. 22. The high transmission level designation requires face coverings in indoor public spaces, limits gatherings to fewer than 10 people and requires physical distancing wherever possible outdoors. In documentation released Oct. 29 by the Utah Department of Health, the county showed the second-highest seven-day average transmission rate in the state.

The Blanding City Council reported that many business owners complained about the new Transmission Index, worried that mask requirements and physical distancing would stagnate the local economy.

“The Governor’s office has no idea what occurs in our county, likely hasn’t been here in many years, and doesn’t speak personally with our local residents and business owners, which is why these decisions should be left to local authorities,” the letter read.

One Blanding restaurant, Yaks Cafe, made national news by deciding to ban masks within their establishment, against public health orders. The cafe’s owners have flouted state COVID-19 guidelines since May while local authorities and the San Juan Public Health Department discuss possible legal penalties.

Further, the council argued that since cities in San Juan County are many miles apart, the Transmission Index guidelines can’t be applied properly.

“In a low population county with a large geographic area, the positivity rate does not necessarily equate to high risk,” councilmembers asserted “When people are being tested because they are symptomatic, it will drive the positivity rate above the moderate or high risk level in every review.”

Rather than imposing the index’s general guidelines, the council requested that the state and local health department direct resources towards educating county and city officials about the coronavirus.

On Oct. 29, Governor Herbert held a press conference with state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn and several other public health experts to address growing concerns about the coronavirus in Utah. He specifically addressed the potential for hospital overcrowding due to increasing positive cases.

Those who show any symptoms of COVID-19 are encouraged to get tested at Moab Regional Hospital. To talk to a nurse about symptoms and schedule a test, call the Moab Regional Hospital COVID-19 hotline at 435-719-3998.

Letter asks for local control of COVID-19 restrictions