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Notes on the May 18 Grand County Commission meeting: Mask regulations, Rally on the Rocks discussed

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At its May 18 meeting, the Grand County Commission voted unanimously to ratify a policy requiring the continued use of face coverings on county property to protect against the spread of COVID-19. A state-level law resulted in the termination of public health orders directing mask use across Utah earlier this spring.

“HB 294 overruled all of our executive orders, but we still have the ability to require face coverings on property that we own or manage,” said Baird. He pointed out that Grand County still meets the metrics to be considered in the “high risk” category for COVID-19 transmission levels, and urged everyone to remain cautious.

“It’s still important to be diligent in Grand County with face coverings and taking all the mitigations that we can to keep the transmission rate down, because it’s still quite high, and dangerous in my opinion,” Baird said.

Commission Chair Mary McGann noted that the statistics on Grand County’s COVID-19 cases can be misleading, because sometimes visitors who get sick in Grand County are counted as cases in their hometowns instead of in Moab. [See “COVID cases spiking in Grand County as tourists return to Moab” on page 1 of this edition. -ed.]

County Attorney Christina Sloan added that Moab Regional Hospital recently sent 10 positive COVID-19 test samples for analysis of what variant of the virus had caused those infections.

“Nine of ten came back as the British variant, which is highly contagious,” Sloan reported, attributing the surge in local cases in part to the presence of the more contagious strain.

Reviewing the Rally on the Rocks

Sloan reported to the commission on Rally on the Rocks, the controversial UTV gathering that was denied a permit for 2021 in Grand County, and which organizers moved to San Juan County just south of Moab.

“Overall it was relatively quiet, or quieter, in my opinion,” Sloan said of the rally. The sheriff’s office, she said, issued 23 written citations, nine written warnings, and two verbal warnings to ATV operators, mostly on Spanish Valley Drive, during the event. For comparison, she noted that this number is about 30% higher than the number of citations issued during the Easter Jeep Safari.

Some of the vehicles cited were street legal; some were not. Sloan said most of the citations were focused on license and registration issues, rather than speeding. Law enforcement officers were not yet trained enough to begin implementing noise monitoring protocols at the time of the rally.

Considering a public lands bill

The commission discussed the idea of drafting a federal public lands bill similar to the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act passed in 2019, which established protections for public lands in Emery County along with other locations. Staff from the office of Rep. John Curtis (R, District 3), who represents southeastern Utah in Congress, have asked Grand County if it would be interested in such a project.

All commissioners expressed interest, in spite of having a backlog of other planning obligations, such as updating the county’s general plan. They suggested consulting with Grand County residents with deep background in public land management.

“I really do like the idea of this being driven by Grand County,” rather than by Washington, D.C., said Clapper.

“I think there’s a lot of issues in our county that need to be addressed and I’d be interested to come up with a strong proposal from Grand County’s perspective and give it to [John] Curtis,” said Commissioner Sarah Stock.