Gov. Gary R. Herbert speaks at the COVID-19 briefing at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Sept. 10, 2020.
SALT LAKE CITY – Gov. Gary Herbert announced Thursday that Box Elder will be the first county in the Bear River Health District to move to a Green/Minimal threat level for COVID-19 infection.
During his weekly televised COVID-19 Task Force briefing, Herbert said that change of status for Box Elder County will be effective Friday.
Cache County officials made an appeal for a similar reduction in coronavirus status in late August, but that request appears to be tangled up in red tape at state level.
In an Aug. 25 letter to Herbert through the Bear River Health Department (BRHD), County Executive Craig Butters cited “…our declining and low number of positive (COVID-19) cases here in Cache County, the low counts in our (health) district and our citizens’ attention to following precautionary protocols …” as justification for Cache County to be moved to Green/Minimal status.
“When a county or city wants to request a change in its restriction status,” according to Joshua Greer, a BRHD spokesman, “they submit a letter through the local health department to the Utah Department of Health. The DOH makes the decision in cooperation with the governor’s office.”
Greer added that Box Elder County originally requested to be downgraded to Green/Minimal status in late June and follow-up with another request in late August. Buttars’ letter to Herbert was forwarded by BRHD officials on Aug. 27.
Charla Haley, a DOH spokesperson, said she could not predict when a decision would be made at state level on Cache County’s request to move to a Green/Minimal restriction status.
During his Thursday briefing, Herbert also announced that Carbon County would move to Green/Minimal restriction status.
There are four coronavirus threat levels under Herbert’s “Utah Leads Together” pandemic response plan, scaled according to the risk of being infected with COVID-19. They are Red/High, Orange/Moderate, Yellow/Low and Green/Minimal threat levels.
With the addition of Box Elder and Carbon on Friday, 13 of Utah’s 29 counties are now under a Green/Minimal threat level for the coronavirus.
They are primarily rural areas with relatively low populations. For example, Box Elder’s population at last count in 2019 was 56,046, less than half the population of Cache County, while Carbon County’s population was only 20,463.
According to the state’s COVID-19 Task Force webpage, coronavirus threat levels are assigned to counties based on numerous factors, including per capita infection rates and number of positive COVID-19 cases, among others.
For example, of the 2,703 positive COVID-19 cases reported in the Bear River Health District since mid-March, 83 percent occurred in Cache County compared to about 16 percent in Box Elder County.
With a population of more than 128,289 residents and 2,232 positive COVID-19 cases since mid-March, Cache County’s per capita infection rate is about 1.7 percent.
By comparison, Box Elder County has less than half that infection rate, with only .82 percent of its people testing positive since mid-March, for a total of 460 cases.
Cache County is one of only 16 counties still under a Yellow/Low threat level. They include major population centers like Davis, Salt Lake, Utah, Washington and Weber counties.