OGDEN, Utah — Don’t throw your masks away quite yet, local health officials say.
And don’t dismiss the notion of getting vaccinated, if you haven’t yet gotten your shots.
The Utah Department of Health announcement Tuesday that the state’s public health orders related to COVID-19 had largely been lifted is a big step in loosening the rules aimed at preventing the spread of the virus. The move, contemplated in state legislation, reflects advances in the state in reducing the COVID-19 caseload and in bolstering the availability of COVID-19 vaccine doses.
Notably, those organizing events that draw big crowds are no longer required to mandate mask use or devise plans aimed at guarding against COVID-19’s spread, as was the case. “It’s up to (organizers’) own policy-making,” said Lori Buttars, spokesperson for the Weber-Morgan Health Department.
Still, Weber-Morgan Health Department officials hope the public and, notably, those planning the many public events typical over the summer are mindful of safety and the things — mask use and social distancing — that have helped fight the virus. They say they will still advise event organizers in planning, if they want the help, and, significantly, recommend vaccination for those who haven’t yet gotten their shots.
“We hope we’ve learned something about disease prevention and keeping the numbers down so we don’t find ourselves in trouble with the virus,” Buttars said. “I think we’re all looking at ways to live with the virus and take what we’ve learned from the past year and carry some of those good habits forward.”
Private businesses can still require that patrons use masks and event organizers can similarly set out their own guidelines. Individuals, too, can still wear face coverings if they want.
Similarly, the department recommends mask use at crowded indoor events where physical distancing isn’t possible, Buttars said in an email. What’s more, even if event organizers aren’t required to fill out a form outlining COVID-19 mitigation measures, like before, the department advises consideration of such action to aid in contact-tracing if COVID-19 cases are linked to an event.
Finally, the department also recommends use of signage at businesses and other locations listing COVID-19 symptoms, asking employees with symptoms to stay home and spelling out face mask and distancing recommendations.
Tuesday’s move reflects a reduction in the statewide 14-day COVID-19 case rate per 100,000 people to below 191, one of the thresholds spelled out in House Bill 294, the measure that allows for the lifting of public health orders. The figure for the state is 163.4 per 100,000 people and 165.25 per 100,000 people as of April 29 for Weber County.
HB 294 also requires a reduction in the seven-day average utilization rate of intensive care unit hospital beds by COVID-19 patients statewide to below 15%, and the figure is currently 11.2%. Finally, the bill states that more than 1.63 million COVID-19 vaccine doses must be allocated to Utah before public health orders can be lifted. The state has received 1.66 million doses thus far.
As across the state, Buttars said the numbers in Weber and Morgan counties reflect an easing of the COVID-19 threat. Weber and Morgan counties reported 1,074 new COVID-19 cases in April, a steady decline since 7,240 in December and the lowest since the 828 cases last August.
“We’re on a downward trend,” she said. The COVID-19 transmission index in Weber and Morgan counties, as determined by the state, is still moderate, she went on, “but we think we’re heading in a good direction.”
All that said, she hopes those who haven’t yet been vaccinated don’t take the developments as cause not to get vaccinated. “We would like to see people still continue to get the vaccination, not be casual about it,” Buttars said.
The main vaccination clinic in Weber County is at the Dee Events Center in Ogden. Two new clinics are scheduled for Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Ben Lomond High School and New Bridge Elementary in Ogden. Walk-in appointments will be accepted, though officials recommend registering ahead of time. More information is on the health department website, webermorganhealth.org.