Governor Responds To Confusion Over Conflicting Public Health Orders

Mar 19, 2020, 8:04 PM | Updated: Mar 20, 2020, 8:02 pm

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Utah Governor Gary Herbert has ordered the repeal of public health orders from Salt Lake and Utah counties after confusion over whether those orders made gatherings of more than 10 people illegal.

“It’s a communication glitch make sure it’s taken care of,” Herbert said on Friday. “We expect people will live in the spirit of the law and comply with the intend with some flexibility not worried about being fined or arrested.”

The Salt Lake and Utah County health departments amended their orders Thursday to limit groups of more than 10 people from congregating together.

“Salt Lake County Health Department amended its March 16 public health order to be consistent with the Utah Department of Health’s order,” officials said in an email.

“Effective immediately, gatherings of more than 10 individuals are prohibited, as ordered by the state of Utah to prevent and slow spread of illness,” Utah County health officials posted on their website.

Salt Lake County officials said the violation of the public health order was defined in Utah Code as a criminal act, and may result in a Class B misdemeanor.

“Violation of the order is a class B (then class A) misdemeanor because that is what’s defined in Utah Code 26A-1-123(5)(a)(i)and (ii) as the criminal penalty for violating a public health order,” they said in an email.

The intent was to keep people at least six feet away from each other to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

As an example, Salt Lake County officials said workplaces can have more than 10 people in their building, but those people should not be within close proximity of each other.

“The goal is to prevent one person’s respiratory droplets from another person’s immediate vicinity,” they said.

The amended orders prompted Herbert to respond.

“The State of Utah was not consulted on the new orders issued by the Salt Lake and Utah County Departments of Health,” he tweeted.

The governor said the counties were directed to repeal the orders immediately.

Soon after the Salt Lake County Department of Health emphasized that their order did not add additional restrictions to the state public health orders.

“Both orders are intended to keep people 6 feet away from each other to prevent the spread of #COVID19,” they said.

As of Thursday, there were 78 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Utah, with 29 in Salt Lake County and two in Utah County.

Sergeant Spencer Cannon with the Utah County Sheriff’s Office said his department was worried by the county’s initial order but wanted to reassure the public that no one would be arrested.

“We were a little concerned that people were getting concerns that there were going to be posses of deputies out there hauling people away in patty wagons,” Cannon said. “That’s just not going to happen. There is not going to be an active effort out there with deputies looking for people in groups of 15 to 20.”

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Governor Responds To Confusion Over Conflicting Public Health Orders