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As state looks to reopen, SLC mayor says timeline depends on you

FILE PHOTO: SLC Mayor Erin Mendenhall announced Wednesday she would be lifting her week-long curfew, nearly five days before its original end date. (Credit: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

.SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said when to reopen state businesses during the coronavirus pandemic is less dependent on a calendar date than to residents’ resolve to keep wearing masks and maintaining social distancing in public.

The mayor joined Lee Lonsberry on Live Mic to discuss the transition from “red” to “orange” in Utah’s coronavirus response plan. 

When to reopen will depend on the rest of the state

Lee, who lives in the city, has been broadcasting his show from the guest bedroom in his home.

“When do I get to go back to work?” Lee asked the mayor.

“Salt Lake City is going to be following suit with the county,” Mendenhall said. “And I know that the county is waiting on the governor’s official order to come out, so they can frame the county’s language to mirror that of the state.

“But I recognize that — just as it is with air quality — Salt Lake City doesn’t exist in a bubble, and we can’t sequester ourselves from the things that are going to be allowed to happen all around the county and surrounding us. So it doesn’t actually make sense for us economically to stay in the red zone. . .  if everyone else around us will be opening.

“But it doesn’t mean we should let up on taking care of yourselves, staying home if you can, social distancing, wearing masks in Salt Lake City in particular.

“And as we heard [Salt Lake] County Mayor [Jenny] Wilson say, it is going to be required if you go back to the businesses that are just now being able to open up,” the mayor said.

Recommendations vs. requirements

Lee pointed out differences in the language used by Gov. Gary Herbert on Tuesday in the gradual plan for state businesses to reopen compared to Wilson’s words on Wednesday.

In her announcement, Wilson said wearing masks will be a requirement, which carries with it the force of law and the possibility of fines.

“Will that be the case in Salt Lake City as well, and you’re supportive of that?” Lee asked.

“Yes. And the county order will be able to prevail over Salt Lake City and all the other cities in the county,” Mendenhall said.

Restaurant dining 

“Will restaurants have to submit a plan of action to the county health department or any health department in order to reopen?” Lee asked.

“I haven’t heard that that will be required, but, of course, we’ll see when the county does issue their order,” the mayor said. “I’m hearing from businesses across the spectrum [with] some saying we’re ready to put those plans into place. . . to keep our customers and employees safe.”

After the county’s announcement on business restrictions, Mendenhall said she’s also heard from a couple of barbers.

“How am I supposed to cut a customer’s hair or give them a shave safely? I’m not ready to  reopen or function with these kind of restrictions,” she recalled them telling her.

But Mendenhall said she understands some people can’t afford to be away from their jobs any longer.

“There’s a lot of concern. People are worried and justifiably so,” she said. 

Ditch your stigma

Mendenhall pointed out that Salt Lake City has the state’s highest number of COVID-19 cases, so it’s critical to take precautions.

“What would you add to that plea to get every Utahn to wear a mask in public?” Lee asked.

Mendenhall said people unused to wearing masks need to jettison any stigma attached to wearing one in public.

“We can’t afford to be questioning this anymore,” the mayor said. “We’ve heard from state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn how critical this is, and we’ve heard from the county mayor that it is required in these public spaces. Let’s set aside any strangeness we feel about putting a mask on.”

Masks, she said, will save people’s lives and speed the economic recovery in the city, state and nation as businesses reopen.

Lee said he has felt a level of self-consciousness about wearing a mask in a store.

“I myself need to get over that because I do believe in this plea [to wear a mask], and I believe that it is of great benefit, not necessarily to ourselves but to others,” he said.

Data not dates

Lee asked Mendenhall if she knew of a timeline for this new order to reopen the state.

“I know there was some uncertainty by Mayor Wilson as to how long the governor’s order was going to last. Have we got any clarification on that yet?”

“We all want a date. And as I’ve been saying, this is really about data not dates,” she said. “As much as we’d love to hang our hats on some number in the future, this is about tracking the data. Today, the county’s data show that the rate of infection is stabilizing, and that there is a slight downward trend in new cases.”

Mendenhall said the speed to reach the next phase of reopening is wholly dependent on the collective will of wearing masks and practicing safe social distancing.

Live Mic with Lee Lonsberry airs weekdays from 12:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app.

How To Prevent the Spread of COVID-19 Coronavirus

COVID-19 coronavirus spreads person to person. It is a virus that is similar to the common cold and the flu. So, to prevent it from spreading:

  • Wash hands frequently and thoroughly, with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds.
  • Don’t touch your face.
  • Keep children and those with compromised immune systems away from someone who is coughing or sneezing (in this instance, at least six feet)
  • If there is an outbreak near you, practice social distancing. That means stay at home instead of going to the movies, sports events, or other activities.
  • Get a flu shot.

Local resources

KSL Coronavirus Q&A 

Utah’s Coronavirus Information 

Utah State Board of Education

Utah Hospital Association

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Utah Coronavirus Information Line – 1-800-456-7707

National Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Commonly asked questions, World Health Organization

Cases in the United States