SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Utah state leaders said Wednesday that updated plans intended to help drive economic recovery won't compromise the health of residents even though the state is experiencing a multi-week rise in cases.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican, said the increase in cases was somewhat expected because many businesses were allowed to reopen starting in May and restrictions on how many people can gather together have been loosened. He acknowledged that the rise causes "concern and pause" but said the state shouldn't have to choose between keeping people healthy and making plans to reopen businesses and get people back to work.
"It's false choice to say we can only do one and not the other," Herbert said.
He spoke a weekly briefing in which Utah state epidemiologist Angela Dunn declared after three weeks of rising case counts: "The risk of being exposed to COVID-19 is higher than ever in Utah."
The state tallied 407 new coronavirus cases Wednesday - exceeding the daily average for June that was already nearly double the 168 average daily cases in May. With four new deaths reported Wednesday, Utah has recorded 149 confirmed deaths from COVID-19.
The state's rate of positive tests was 5.5% as of Wednesday, up from about 4.2% in mid-May, according to state figures.
"I'm urging you to limit your number of close contacts by practicing social distancing, wearing a face-covering when you are in public places, practicing good hand hygiene and staying home when you are ill , no matter how mild the symptoms," Dunn said.
Herbert also issued a new plea for Utah residents to use masks, comparing it to wearing a seat belt in a car. Herbert has stopped short of making masks mandatory.
"There's no guarantee if you wear a seat belt you won't get hurt in an accident. But it does reduce risk. It makes the odds better for you," Herbert said. "Same with wearing a mask. It'll help you against catching it from somebody else. It also helps you from spreading the virus....For those who really care about their neighbors, you should really wear a mask."
The latest iteration of the state's plan to emerge from the global economic recession caused by the pandemic that led 175,000 state residents to claim unemployment since mid-March includes a plan to use up to $60 million in federal stimulus funds for a grant program to help businesses reopen and stay safe. The state also plans to invest in infrastructure projects ready for construction.
The plan encourages businesses to pledge to maintain safe working spaces by adhering to practices such as social distancing, strict hygiene and the use of face masks, said Derek Miller, president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber and Downtown Alliance.
Senate President Stuart Adams, a Republican, noted that the most people 18-64 years old don't have to be hospitalized if they get coronarivus.
"We can open th e economy if we take care of the medically frail," Adams said.