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Masks required in Moab; Positive tests from tourists left out of count, health department reports

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Masks required in Moab; Positive tests from tourists left out of count, health department reports

In Grand County, masks will be required in public places where physical distancing is impossible, including businesses and government buildings. 

The Grand County Council approved the ordinance at their meeting on July 7 to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the county after Utah Governor Gary Herbert allowed the rule change late last week. A similar request for mandatory mask usage in Salt Lake County and Summit County was approved and went into effect on June 27.

State guidelines already require all businesses to have employees who work with the public wear facial coverings and some businesses have required customers to wear masks prior to the order.

The policy change comes as Utah and other southwestern states are experiencing an uptick in positive COVID-19 cases. Utah is currently reporting more than 500 positive cases a day on average. Grand County currently reports 21 positive cases among residents, 4 which are considered “active,” as of July 8.

Gov. Herbert is considering issuing a statewide mask order on advice from medical professionals and public health officials, a spokesperson from his office reported.

“All individuals within Grand County shall be required to wear a face-covering that completely covers the nose and mouth in public areas, including any indoor space open to the public, where consistent social distancing of at least six feet is not possible, reasonable, or prudent,” the local order reads.

Exemptions are made for children under two years of age, people with certain health conditions that prevent mask-wearing and people engaged in work that makes wearing a mask a health risk or impractical.

Read the full text of the Grand County mask requirements here 

Bradford explained that while Grand County currently meets the criteria to move to a “green” or low-risk phase under state guidelines, he stressed that placing fewer restrictions on businesses and social gatherings will mean more opportunities for transmission, and so widespread use of facial coverings are an important element in reopening.

“Though it seems counter-intuitive, really increased protections go along with that green risk level or the new normal risk level,” Bradford said.

Councilmember Rory Paxman, who strongly opposed the concept of a mask mandate at the council’s last meeting, maintained that stance.

“I’m concerned about the people that are coming to town that don’t quite understand,” Paxman said. “I’m really concerned that this is just setting a precedent to just go around threatening people.”

Paxman also questioned how enforcement of the order will work.

Sloan noted that while law enforcement will have the ability to cite people with a class B misdemeanor for noncompliance, the focus will be on education rather than punishment.

The ordinance passed 5-1 with Councilmember Curtis Wells in opposition; councilmember Paxman left the meeting before the vote.

Positive test numbers not including travelers

Bradford addressed questions about the publicly available positive test numbers issued by his department, confirming that the organization is not disclosing positive tests from those traveling through the area. 

Bradford said that there have been six tourists that have received positive COVID-19 test results through Moab Regional Hospital. The Southeast Utah Health Department did not include any of those positive cases in their published case counts for the region.

“The six non-residents are not counted in our total...because they immediately returned home and are quarantining there,” said Bradford. He noted that those cases would be included in their regional case counts.

At the July 7 council meeting, Council Chair Mary McGann asked whether these travelers were contacted by the local health department for contact tracing. Bradford said no.

“Apart from knowing that they were tested at Moab Regional Hospital, we know basically nothing beyond that,” said Bradford, who explained that the health department in their home county would do the investigation and should contact SEUHD if there are Grand County residents who might be infected. He said that the department had not been contacted by any other public health officials as yet.

Grand County Attorney Christina Sloan asked about the SEUHD COVID-19 dashboard, which has a place specifically to disclose non-resident cases. She noted that as of June 8, that listing remains at 0. 

In an email with the Moab Sun News, Bradford said that the non-resident category on the SEUHD dashboard is for those who “receive care in our area for any length of time.” There is no mention of this requirement on the SEUHD website, which clearly identifies the category as “Non-Resident cases of COVID-19.”

Bradford said that the department was “working on a way to show what positive tests are resulting from testing at MRH.”

State provides more courtesy masks to Moab

The City of Moab reported that the Governor’s Office of Economic Development has provided 75,000 additional facemasks to Moab and Grand County to be made available to local businesses and visitors to the area.

Free face-coverings will be available to businesses at the Canyonlands Copy Center (375 S. Main St., Moab).

“The City of Moab and the Moab Area Travel Council thank GOED for this generous donation and the contribution it makes to help protect local residents, businesses, and visitors during the COVID-19 pandemic,” city officials said in a press release.