State implements, then withdraws travel form
The State of Utah has withdrawn a program that asked travelers to complete a COVID-19 travel declaration form when entering the state.
An emergency alert system was first used to notify travelers of the form on April 10. The program was discontinued by April 13.
Travelers received an emergency alert message on their cell phones when they passed through nine locations in the state, including in San Juan County on Highway 191 north of Monticello.
The message was sent to each cell phone passing through the area, regardless of where the phone owner lives.
As a result, local residents received the message, even though the alert system was primarily focused on out-of-area visitors and not on local residents.
In addition, several residents received the message more than a dozen times, even though it was designed to be sent only one time.
Others received the message even though they were as far as 80 miles from a “geo-fenced” area.
In a statement, officials said, “It was important for Utah to try every good idea to stop the spread of COVID-19 in our state. Innovations don’t always work out exactly how you hope, however.”
Joe Dougherty, spokesman for the Utah Division of Emergency Management, explains the goal that when cars passed through a “geo-fenced” area on Highway 191 north of Monticello, they were sent a Public Safety Alert message by the cell phone carriers.
Dougherty said the geo-fenced-area is a rectangular-shaped polygon which is approximately eight miles long.
Other locations in Utah where travelers were “geo-targeted” include interstate highways I-15, I-80, I-70, and I-84 at the state lines, Highway 89 near Kanab, and Highway 40 near Vernal.
Trevelers entering the state through the Salt Lake City International Airport continue to be asked to fill out the forms.
“We are not tracking compliance and have no database of the people who are notified,” said Dougherty, who stated the Governor’s orders do not include enforcement provisions.
“We are not restricting travel or commerce and will not stop any vehicle, but are just asking people to do what they are asked,” explained Dougherty. “The information we receive from travelers is so beneficial.”
Dougherty said the state does not receive any information from the cellular companies about who received the message or even how many were sent out.
Dougherty explains that notifications are sent through the same system that handles the emergency alert system, including the Amber Alert notifications.
He added that Utah was the first state to deploy the emergency alert system this way to fight the virus.
The system was implemented after an order by Utah Governor Gary Herbert.
The officials state the information received from the COVID-19 travel declaration form will be used by the Utah Department of Health to help the state manage the global pandemic caused by the virus.
The survey includes a number of questions primarily focused on the respondent’s health history, including if they are symptomatic, have had a COVID-19 test, and where they have traveled over the past two weeks.
The survey also asks for name, birthdate, and contact information.
The form states: “Each person 18 years of age and older entering Utah must submit an electronic State of Utah Travel Declaration Form, as ordered by the Governor, to inform individuals of Utah’s current COVID-19 related restrictions and declare information that will be used by the Utah Department of Health to help track and trace COVID-19 infections that may arise from persons who enter the state of Utah from national or international travel.”