Blanding City Council sends letter to Governor opposing transmission rating system
The majority of the Blanding City Council sent a letter to the Utah Governor’s office on October 29, stating opposition to mandates associated with the three-level transmission rating the state has implemented in counties across the state. (The letter can be read at the bottom of this story)
The letter was signed by Mayor Joe Lyman, as well as council members Cheryl Bowers, Robert Turk, Logan Monson and Logan Shumway. Council member Kathrina Perkins withheld her name from the letter.
“We certainly don’t want to be seen as not trying to slow the spread or that we don’t care about the health of our residents, or that we don’t believe in masks,” Council member Bowers said of the letter.
“We just don’t believe that a mandate from the Governor’s office is the correct way to do this, due to the differences in San Juan County from other areas in the state.”
On October 22, San Juan County was one of 13 counties moved from the moderate transmission level to high transmission level by the state. The rating is based on case rates, positivity rates, and Intensive Care Unit (ICU) utilization.
Under the guidelines implemented by the change, social gatherings such as family dinners, get-togethers with friends, and book clubs will be limited to ten or fewer people. The rule does not impact religious services.
Additionally, masks are required to be worn in public indoor settings, and outdoors when physical distancing is not feasible, including both employees and patrons.
Bowers told the city council at their October 27 meeting that she received calls from several business owners after the county moved to the High Transmission rate.
“They said ‘What am I supposed to do?’ ‘Do I have to shut down?’ ‘I have employees who can’t wear masks.’ One said ‘I’m going to have to sell,’” said Bowers.
“I talked to another one who said ‘If I force people to wear a mask in here when it is just me and them, they’re going to turn around and walk out’ because there are people whose choice is not to wear a mask and they are not comfortable wearing a mask.”
Since the beginning of the pandemic, one Blanding business, Yak’s Cafe, has gone as far as banning people who wear masks or gloves from eating inside. They cite germs brought in from masks and gloves.
At the council meeting, Bowers said the city letter doesn’t go so far as to say that the city will ignore the Governor’s order.
“I get the reasoning behind it,” said Bowers. “We want people to be more diligent because our cases are going up. I get that, but I don’t think this mandate or these risk levels are what works for our county.”
The letter asks that the governor prioritize education efforts, also saying that the governor should leave decisions related to COVID-19 to local authorities.
The letter concludes by saying: “We do not favor the requirement of mandates that are too broadly applied and cannot be enforced.”
At his October 29 briefing Governor Gary Herbert addressed how some businesses in the state are not enforcing mask mandates.
“Most in the private sector are doing a great job, we don’t find the spread of coronavirus in local business establishments. Business people understand they have to stay open, they have to provide a safe place for their employees to come and work. They have a safe place for their customers to come and shop.”
Governor Herbert added that enforcement of the mask mandate is not all encompassing, comparing it to enforcement of speed limits.
“This is not an easy thing to enforce. As you drive down the road, you talk about people getting tickets for speeding. But how many of those that are actually speeding get ticketed? It’s a small percentage of those.”
The governor shared that enforcement of the mandates comes down to local government agencies, including county sheriff departments and city police departments.
In addition to their concerns with enforcement of the mandate, the city council letter argues that “in a low population county with a large geographic area, the positivity rate does not necessarily equate to high risk.”
Blanding COVID cases have risen over the past few weeks, although not as dramatically as cases in the current county hotspot of Monticello.
The Blanding area had six active cases on October 13, 17 on October 20, 30 on October 27, and 33 on October 29.
County wide there were 29 active cases on October 13, 62 on October 20, 101 on October 27, and 116 on October 29.
San Juan County had the 11th highest case rate of cases in the 29 counties in the state on October 22, and the fifth highest case rate on October 29. The San Juan County rate is 576 cases per 100,000.
The high transmission level index comes as hospitals throughout the state report they are nearing capacity.
At his October 29 press conference, Governor Herbert spoke about concerns shared by Utah hospitals regarding capacity.
“We’re getting perilously close here today. Our hospitals are getting too full to function as efficiently and effectively as they have in the past,” said Herbert. “That should cause us all concern, not just for COVID-19 patients but others that need an ICU bed.”
This week, doctors with the San Juan Health District sent a letter to the Editor published in the San Juan Record which encourages residents to social distance and wear masks.
The letter reads in part, “If you wear a mask and social distance, you have our respect for it. It’s not a sign that you are caving into governmental pressure, nor is it a mark of fearfulness. Rather it shows that you choose to protect other people.”
That letter can also be read below: