With COVID-19 cases on the rise across the nation and Utah hospitals reporting the strain, the pandemic is again a topic of much discussion at local government meetings. The Grand County Commission heard an update from the Southeast Utah Health Department on local COVID-19 status, discussed measures to restrict special events during times of high transmission and covered how to file complaints against businesses that violate the governor’s mask mandate.

As of Nov. 18, the SEUHD coronavirus case count page reported 70 active cases in the county, with a test positivity rate of nearly 21% and a total of 232 documented cases in the county since the pandemic began.

Southeast Utah Health Department Director Bradon Bradford said rapid tests are now being reserved for high risk cases due to supply-chain issues, but that he expects more to be available in the next couple of weeks.

Bradford said that the health department is still performing contact tracing on all positive cases, but noted that most other health departments in the state have had to give up complete contact tracing in the face of overwhelming caseloads.

“The numbers are just so high right now—by the time they would get to them, basically everybody would be through their quarantine period,” he said of other health department contact tracers.

SEUHD contact tracers are working at full capacity to keep up with the workload.

Bradford said that when contact tracers can’t keep up, they prioritize contacts on their highest potential risk of exposure and risk of severe infection.

Bradford noted that more than half of the cases the health department is seeing have been transmitted “in a household setting,” either between people who live in the same household or between visitors spending a significant amount of time in a household with residents. He reminded people to be vigilant about mask use, social distancing and limiting public outings around the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.

“We will expect to see an increase in cases the week after Thanksgiving,” he told the commission.

Public health order

County Attorney Christina Sloan presented a new joint public health order issued by the Grand County Commission and the SEUHD, updated to be consistent with the Nov. 8 order from Utah Governor Gary Herbert. The order remains similar to what the county already had in place, but adds guidance regarding special events in the county.

“The ‘high-risk transmission’ determination has not cooled off our special events, and we don’t actually have the capacity to keep them safe,” Sloan told the commission, echoing concerns she had voiced at the previous commission meeting [see “Large public events cause COVID-19 concerns,” Moab Sun News Nov. 12, 2020 edition. -ed.].

Bradford noted that while large events have not proven to be high-risk places of infection, they can bring a lot of visitors to the area, which can have effects beyond the event itself.

“There’s a lot of off-shoot consequences of having an event and having people in town,” he said. “Certainly some that are good and some of them are potentially an increased risk situation.”

The new public health order outlines restrictions for special events depending on the county’s transmission risk level, which is determined by the governor’s Transmission Risk Index.

Under the new order, events will be capped at 250 registered participants per day for outdoor events during the high risk level. Indoor events will not be permitted and the sale of all alcoholic beverages at special events will be restricted.

At moderate risk levels, the sale of beer will be permitted at special events, while liquor at special events will be restricted. Indoor events will be permitted but capped at 500 registered participants per day; outdoor events will be limited to 1000 registered participants per day.

Commissioners voted 5-0 to approve the order. Commissioner Rory Paxman was absent from the meeting and Commissioner Curtis Wells was absent at the time of the vote. The order expires on March 2, 2021.

State creates complaint form for mask compliance

Sloan also reported that residents should report businesses that violate the governor’s mask mandate through a new state complaint portal, available online. The form connects to the Utah State Labor Commission and will be effective for 120 days, beginning Nov. 9.

The Labor Commission form is specifically to investigate businesses that are not requiring employees to wear masks as mandated by the state of Utah. The complaints will be processed through the Utah Occupational Safety and Health Division.

Both Grand County and the City of Moab have online witness statement forms, available on each entity’s website, for residents to report non-compliant businesses. Sloan said that local officials will defer to the Labor Commission in enforcing the mask mandate, but she said complaints filed with local governments will be kept “for future enforcement purposes.”

“Continue to file complaints, folks, but do it administratively,” Sloan said. “Do not call our police department, do not call the sheriff’s office. Do it through the Labor Commission, do it through the county and city’s online complaint portal.”

The Utah Labor Commission form can be found online at https://secure.laborcommission.utah.gov/uosh_complaint.html.

Hotspot funding

The three proposed Arches Regional Hotspot projects received their first round of approval from the Utah Department of Transportation. [see “Hotspot transportation proposals headed to UDOT,” Moab Sun News Nov. 5, 2020 edition. -ed.]

Commissioner Curtis Wells, who served as the chair of the Arches Regional Hotspot Coordinating Committee, said UDOT had approved $5.4 million for a parking project that will add 188 new stalls to side streets off of Main Street in the downtown area; $1.5 million for a five-year pilot public transit program; and $2.6 million towards a paved multi-use pathway in Spanish Valley.

“I think it’s a big win,” Wells told the commission. The projects must next be evaluated by the Utah Transportation Commission. Wells said that will happen on Dec. 11.

“I feel relieved that we’re this close to the finish line on it,” Wells said.

Wells also announced that he will serve on the transition team for governor-elect Spencer Cox, focusing on rural policy.

“I’m trying to arrange good dialogue with local leadership so that everyone feels like they can plug in to that process,” Wells said, inviting commissioners to contact him to share their concerns and priorities.

The Grand County Commission meets at 4 p.m. on the first and third Tuesday of each month. Meetings are streamed online at the Grand County Government Youtube channel. Agendas and instructions on public comment can be found at www.grandcountyutah.net/134/County-Council.

“We will expect to see an increase in cases the week after Thanksgiving.”

– Bradon Bradford