With the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Box Elder County remaining low compared with some other parts of Utah, county leaders are asking the state for permission to move forward in relaxing coronavirus-related restrictions.
At its meeting today, the Box Elder County Commission is expected to formally petition the state to move the county into the “green” phase of reopening.
Dubbed the “new normal” phase under the state’s master reopening plan, the green phase means all businesses can be open while taking “reasonable precautions,” including dine-in restaurants and others that have been operating under restrictions for the past three months. It also allows people to gather in large groups again, and would pave the way for schools to open in time for the 2020-21 school year.
While it would remove restrictions, the green phase still has guidelines in place that including social distancing of six feet or more, regular hand washing, staying home if sick, and the wearing of face coverings.
Box Elder County Commissioner Jeff Scott, who is also a member of the Bear River Board of Health, said there have been numerous requests from individuals, businesses and mayors in the county to consider moving to the green phase.
“We’ve had a few new cases, but nothing compared to what we’ve seen in some other areas,” Scott said. “With the better weather and our low case count, we’re thinking green might be a good option.”
The request to change the county’s status first has to go through the Bear River Health Department, which can make its own recommendation before sending the request to the governor’s office, which can either grant or deny the petition.
All counties in the state are currently operating in the “yellow” or low-risk phase with the exception of Kane County in southern Utah, which was granted permission last week to enter the green phase.
State officials had considered moving all of Utah to the green phase last week, but decided against it due to a recent spike in COVID-19 cases. Many of those are tied to an outbreak among employees at a Cache County meat processing plant, but last week, the Cache County Council voted to ask the state for permission to move into the green phase.
Heading into this week, the Bear River Health Department had reported a total of 1,061 cases in its district, which includes Box Elder, Cache and Rich counties. Cache County has accounted for 982 of those cases, while Box Elder has had 78 and Rich just one.
BRHD spokesman Josh Greer told the Herald Journal last week that a change in status doesn’t necessarily mean the risk of contracting the coronavirus is lower.
“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.”
With the relatively low case count in Box Elder, Scott said he has received comments from people asking why the county had restrictions placed on it in the first place. On the other hand, he said the case count might be low because of the restrictions.
“It’s kind of ‘darned if you do, darned if you don’t,’” he said. “We’ll probably never know.”
While it wasn’t the deciding factor, moving to the green phase could also remove some uncertainty about the status of the Box Elder County Fair, which is still more than two months away. Scott said a decision regarding the fair will be made in early July, “but we’re still planning like it’s going to go ahead.
“This is something that’s just so bizarre, that none of us ever expected to see,” he said. “We’re rolling with it, hoping everybody stays safe, and hopefully we’ll get back to some semblance of normalcy here soon.”