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Gov. Herbert clarifies limits on groups, says state is ready to help soften economic impact of COVID-19

(Gov. Gary Herbert briefing reporters about impact of COVID-19 in Utah. Credit: Graham Dudley, KSL.com)

UTAH STATE CAPITOL – Utah residents are already beginning to feel the economic impact COVID-19.

Utah’s governor said the state’s economy is in a good position to withstand the outbreak of the coronavirus, but, there are some things that need to be cleared up.

Herbert said many people got very worried about being in large groups, and bad communication from his office may be partly to blame.

GROUPS OF TEN OR MORE BEING PROHIBITED

Thursday night, officials from the Salt Lake County and Utah County health departments issued statements saying the state was prohibiting groups larger than ten people to keep the spread of coronavirus at bay.  Some officials even mentioned that defying the state’s order would be a class B misdemeanor.

However, Governor Herbert said he never intended to make people think they would be cited for being in a group with ten people or more.

“We did not expect the emphasis on penalty and law enforcement and fines.  We didn’t think that was a good message and it was certainly not being received well.  In just a short period of time, a brush fire erupted,” he said.

Herbert’s recommendation is just that… a recommendation, which he expects people to follow.  That could change if officers see an “egregious” violation of this recommendation, but he didn’t define what would qualify.  He said the state wants people to be able to interact with other people, as long as they keep their distance.

“Not that this was going to become some sort of police state, and they were going to be prosecuted for any kind of violation,” Herbert assured.

STATE OFFICIALS BRACING FOR ECONOMIC IMPACT

In the meantime, several industries have already seen a big drop in revenue.

Officials from the Utah Cultural Alliance said the state’s cultural sector, which includes museums, zoos, and arts councils, has lost roughly $29 million.  The Utah Restaurant Association reported a 20-percent decline happening before the state prohibited in-house dining.

The Governor’s Office of Economic Development is trying to minimize the negative impact of the virus.  They’re going to consolidate resources for business owners to help them overcome the challenges they face.

Herbert said the state is also increasing benefits for people who have lost jobs or hours because of the virus.  He reiterated anyone who has lost income should contact the Department of Workforce Services.

“That’s unemployment insurance.  That’s, in fact, an opportunity for them to be helped, there,” Herbert said.

He also said the private sector needs to step up in donations.

“We have a lot of wealthy people in this state, and we need to, probably, call upon them more than ever before to say, ‘Give us help with our food banks and with those who are vulnerable and need shelter,” said Herbert.

 

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