Summit County will lift its stay-at-home mandate Friday morning in a new public health order that relaxes some of the strictest measures that have forced the area economy into a standstill and will allow most businesses to reopen, albeit under expansive restrictions meant to guard against a surge in coronavirus cases.
The move marks a new phase in the community’s response to the pandemic and reflects health officials’ increasing confidence that the presence of the disease in the county is at a manageable level.
Far from a return to normal, though, the order will require residents and businesses to continue to comply with strict social distancing protocols and other measures meant to prevent the spread of the virus.
While remaining at home will no longer be required, the order nonetheless instructs residents to do so as much as they can, including by working from home when possible. Residents are also advised to wear non-surgical face masks in public, while gatherings must be limited to 20 or fewer people.
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Businesses will be forced to comply with a bevy of restrictions ranging from stringent sanitization protocols to caps on the number of patrons they can allow inside at one time.
The 54-page order was issued at the direction of Health Director Rich Bullough and County Manager Tom Fisher. The Summit County Council approved the order unanimously in a special meeting Thursday afternoon. It is slated to go into effect at 12:01 a.m. Friday.
“We’re putting a lot of faith in everybody in the community to do their part and abide by the new rules,” said Councilor Kim Carson during the meeting. “… I think if we follow this, we can slowly begin to open things back up, get our businesses back open and slowly begin to build the activity levels within our communities.”
Among the most notable restrictions in the order on private businesses are those that apply to restaurants, which have been limited to providing only curbside or delivery service since mid-March.
Dine-in service will be permitted as long as establishments limit tables to groups of six — unless the patrons are members of the same household — and keep groups at least 6 feet apart. Restaurants will also be required to close for cleaning in the morning, afternoon and evening. Bars can operate under additional restrictions, such as a ban on at-the-bar seating.
Other types of businesses that can reopen include salons, gyms and retail shops, though they, too, will need to abide by a number of rigorous conditions. As an example, salons won’t be allowed to accept walk-in clients, while gyms and retail shops will be required to limit the number of patrons inside to one person per 100 square feet of floor space.
Grocery stores will also be compelled to cap their number of patrons using that formula, in addition to restrictions such as limiting aisles to one-way traffic.
Up to 20 people will be allowed at theaters and other entertainment venues, as long as social distancing protocols are followed. Gatherings of that many people are also permitted at churches, though the order encourages them to use video conferencing instead of meeting in person.
All businesses in the county, meanwhile, will be forced to take actions such as posting signage with information about proper protocols, screening employees for symptoms of the coronavirus before their shifts and appointing someone responsible for “COVID-19 issues and their impact in the workplace.”
Absent from the order is a ban on visitors, who were required to leave as part of the stay-at-home mandate. Bullough said Thursday, however, that non-essential travel remains unwise. He urged visitors, including from neighboring areas, to refrain from coming into Summit County for reasons other than work.
“If you’re considering coming here to recreate, we still have a small hospital,” he said, referring to lingering fears that a spike in coronavirus patients could overwhelm health care infrastructure. “Our obligation is still to our residents.”
The prospect of reopening is likely to be welcomed by many businesses that have awaited eased restrictions after the rapid spread of the coronavirus in the community last month prompted the stay-at-home mandate. It is unclear, though, how quickly customers will return, given continuing concern about the virus.
The growth of confirmed cases slowed after the stay-at-home order was enacted. Officials have said public health data, including information gleaned from a recent testing push that included many asymptomatic people, indicates that it is safe to gradually reopen the economy, even as some residents, apprehensive about the possibility of igniting another outbreak, have expressed skepticism about the wisdom of doing so.
Predictions about the economic effects of the pandemic remain grim, even in light of the reopening plans, though much about the evolving situation is still unknown. The Park City government is projecting a 36% drop in sales tax revenue in the fiscal year that begins in July versus what had been expected, for instance, contributing to an anticipated budget shortfall of nearly $8.6 million.
County officials early in the week indicated they were planning to implement a new order at 12:01 a.m. Saturday, minutes after the stay-at-home order was initially slated to expire, but moved it up to Friday to coincide with the governor’s reopening timeline for the state.
The new health order is scheduled to remain in place through July 1. Health officials, notably, plan to reevaluate it in two weeks and could reinstate a stay-at-home order if the spread of the coronavirus has “substantially increased.”
“We’re very hopeful moving forward, but it’s going to be a team effort, it’s going to be a community effort,” Bullough said during the council meeting.
To view the health order in its entirety, go to https://www.summitcounty.org/DocumentCenter/View/10897/Joint-Public-Health-Order-2020-05—Stabilization-Phase.