CACHE COUNTY – During his bi-weekly Coronavirus update for members of the Cache County Council, County Executive Craig Buttars predicted that the Bear River Health District will shortly announce guidelines for the reopening of some local restaurants.
“We’re in a good place right now with our current health order; we’re starting to reopen our local businesses gradually,” Buttars observed, referring to the most recent directive from the Bear River Health District allowing the reopening of gyms and fitness centers under specific conditions.
“The next order will probably come out in the next week or two,” Buttars added during the County Council meeting held via ZOOM video-conferencing on April 14. “That order will address restaurants, setting guidelines for when they can open and under what conditions they can invite the public in.”
Gov. Gary Herbert has already slightly amended the statewide guidelines for restaurants by allowing patrons to enter establishments to place take-out orders. Dining in restaurants is still banned throughout the state.
Suggestions for precautions that might allow the limited reopening of restaurants have included wider spacing of tables, enhanced sanitation requirements and screening of would-be patrons for symptoms of illness prior to seating them.
In his report, Buttars acknowledged that there are some places in Utah where communication between elected officials and local health authorities aren’t very effective.
“That’s not the case here,” the county executive emphasized. “One of the changes that we’ve made recently is that the health orders being issued by the Bear River Health District are now signed by Director Lloyd Berentzen, myself, Commissioner Jeff Scott from Box Elder County and Commissioner Bill Cox from Rich County, because we all serve on the BRHD board of health. That demonstrates that we’ve all been involved in the discussions that led up to those orders and concur with them.”
Buttars also confessed that he is somewhat concerned that the upcoming special session of the Legislature starting April 16 might result in actions complicating the coordination between local elected officials and their respective health departments.
A special session of the Legislature was announced in late March to deal with revenue shortfall resulting from the Coronavirus outbreak. Originally expected to last only one day, lawmakers are now suggesting that this session could last up to 10 days while they address issues relating to access to medication, preparing for the June primary election and extending the state income tax deadline.
“In some locations, local officials have issued orders and guidelines that exceed those coming from the state,” Buttars explained. “Because of that, our legislative leaders are looking at actions that might limit the authority of local health departments. We’re concerned about that … We certainly hope that the Legislature won’t pass any laws that hinder our local health departments.
“We feel that health authorities have to be nimble in their ability to respond to issues like this pandemic. We also feel that the demographics of the state are so varied that someplace like Uintah County shouldn’t be treated in the same way as Salt Lake County. That’s why we feel that it’s so important that critical decisions impacting health and safety be made at local level.
“It’s interesting that the Legislature would now want to mandate what our local health department does,” Buttars observed. “The state doesn’t like the federal government telling them what to do and Utah counties feel the same way. We’re perfectly willing to take direction from the state when it’s appropriate, but this isn’t one of those times.”