Rafael Mojica and other JBS workers protest Tuesday, June 9, 2020, in Logan, Utah. Hundreds of workers at the meatpacking plant in Hyrum, Utah have tested positive for COVID-19. (Eli Lucero/The Herald Journal via AP)
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Utah Gov. Gary Herbert instituted a “pause” on lifting any additional virus-related restrictions on Thursday as the state's rate of positive COVID-19 tests continues to skyrocket.

The recent spike began over Memorial Day weekend and was likely caused by more people gathering while disregarding social distancing guidelines, said state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn. She and Herbert urged Utah residents to take precautions such as wearing masks.

“I know we’ve asked a lot of everybody over the past several months, but you know we’re not at the end yet,” Dunn told reporters Thursday. “So it’s going to really take us a lot of discipline to continue taking these measures individually.”

Dr. Samuel Brown, a critical care researcher at Intermountain Healthcare, has said he’s concerned that Utah may have to shut down again if people don’t practice mask wearing and social distancing in the rush to get the economy jump started.

“I understand why people are eager to be on the move again — I really do,” Brown said “It’s also true that if we’re not really careful, people will die.”

Herbert, a Republican, said he has no intention of shutting the state down or implementing further restrictions on businesses. He pointed to the strength of Utah’s economy during the pandemic as a sign the state has been moving in a positive direction.

“We’ve not closed down the economy, and consequently our economy is much better off today than any other state in America," Herbert said.

Utah is among a large number of states in the U.S. with rising cases, according to an Associated Press analysis. There have been over 13,000 reported cases of COVID-19 in Utah and 131 deaths, according to state figures.

Dunn began issuing calls last week for Utah residents to continue social distancing and wearing masks, about a month after much of the state was allowed to reopen.

At the time of Dunn’s renewed plea, the state had recorded an average of about 200 cases a day that week — by far the highest weekly average since the pandemic began. That number has now risen to about 320 cases per day for the first week of June, state figures show.

Utah also has the 11th-highest rate of positive tests per 100,000 people in the U.S. It had the seventh-lowest rate in mid-May, according to The COVID Tracking Project.

Utah could also be at risk of spreading the virus to surrounding states such as Wyoming, Colorado and Nevada “if things got out of hand," Brown said.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis mentioned concerns about rising coronavirus cases in Utah and Arizona during a Thursday briefing on COVID-19.

“That’s of concern because there’s a lot of travel back and forth between Colorado and those states,” said Polis, a Democrat. “We’ve seen no evidence yet of that leading to increased transmission on our side of the border, but we watch and we worry.”

While much of the state allowed businesses to reopen amid relaxed coronavirus-related restrictions, Logan Mayor Holly Daines decided to close the two community spaces because she thought it could help stem a recent increase in positive cases, said city spokesperson Teresa Harris.

Nearly 300 workers at the nearby meatpacking plant JBS USA tested positive for the virus on May 30, according to the Bear River Health Department.

Employees held a demonstration in Logan Tuesday against conditions at the plant in Hyrum.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.


Sophia Eppolito is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.