In a six-to-one vote, the Cache County Council voted to ask state officials to immediately drop the county to “green,” or “low risk” — despite about 800 active COVID-19 cases here.
“Yes, there has been a spike in reported cases,” the council’s chair, Karl Ward, told The Herald Journal after the vote. “But they were isolated just to the JBS plant and associated that way, and also, part of the spike was due to increased number of tests as well. So we felt like the economic impact has been far more devastating to the citizens of Cache Valley than has the COVID virus.”
The Bear River Health Department confirmed last week that nearly 300 of the 800 active cases came from a testing clinic at a local meatpacking plant. The number of cases tied to the JBS outbreak is likely higher as additional test results from that clinic come in and the health department works on contact tracing for those cases, but what percentage of the 800 active cases is tied to JBS is currently undisclosed.
Tourism, restaurants, hotels and event venues have been hit hard by the efforts to flatten the curve of spreading the coronavirus. For example, Ward said, the cancellation of the Summer Citizens program alone was a $3 million economic blow to the county.
Of the state’s 12,864 confirmed cases of coronavirus, 861 have been found in Cache County as of Wednesday. There has only been one death attributed to the disease in the area, and the individual was living outside of the state at the time of their diagnosis and death.
Jon White, the council’s South District representative, was the solitary dissent in the June 9 vote.
“I know businesses are suffering, everybody’s suffering,” White said. “I don’t think people should live in fear from COVID, and I agree people should make up their own minds, but sometimes, everybody needs a little direction.”
Gov. Gary Herbert’s May 13 executive order moving much of the state to the “low risk,” or “yellow” phase, of the Utah Leads Together was expected to expire mid-June. However, state epidemiologist Angela Dunn warned against the change while Utah experienced a spike in cases.
“I want to be very clear today that we have increased the spread of COVID-19 in Utah,” Dunn said in the state’s June 3 situational update press conference. “It’s not explained easily by a single outbreak or an increase in testing. This is a statewide trend.”
According to Josh Greer, with the Bear River Health Department, it doesn’t matter what color of the Utah Leads Together plan the county is in, because “a move to ‘green’ is not a lower risk. It allows people to do more things.”
“From the health perspective, going to ‘green’ does not change the risk, staying in ‘yellow’ does not change the risk,” Greer said. “And so we’re being cautious to continue to focus on the health aspect and not really get involved so much with the colors, the ‘red,’ the ‘green,’ whatever phase we’re in. We’re not really making a statement of support or non-support for consideration by the Council.”
Instead, the health department is recommending the public continue personal safety measures.
“Our big key points here are: stay at home when you’re sick, practice social distancing, wear a mask when social distancing is difficult to maintain, and then washing your hands often,” Greer said.
Vice-chair Gina Worthen is spearheading the county effort to draft a petition to the governor, and the council hopes to have the letter sent out in the next week, according to Ward.