Iron County commissioners balk at state's new COVID-19 guidelines

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Map shows current transmission levels determined by COVID-19 cases every 14 days per 100,000 people in each county. (Graphic: Craig Hart / KUTV)

Iron County's three commissioners decried the state's new COVID-19 transmission index and corresponding health guidelines as "dangerous overreach" in an open letter on Friday.

Commissioners took issue with the state's metrics for determining its high, moderate, and low-risk transmission index and argued the new guidelines for individuals and businesses — which include a mask order for high and moderate risk counties — aren't the best solution for the county's residents.

"We keep in mind the social costs of any health measure, which in Iron County have resulted in sharp increases in murder, suicide, overdoses, and other crimes against persons," the commissioners state.

Specific statistics regarding increased crime rates weren't provided in the letter. According to the commissioners:

While our state tracks daily cases of Covid-19 by county, it is unwilling to provide us with real-time data regarding other negative effects brought on by shutdowns and uncertainty."

The county's infection rate of 127 cases per 100,000 residents every 14 days has had a "negligible" effect on intensive care units, commissioners state.

Commissioners Paul Cozzens, Alma Adams, and Michael Bleak encouraged all business owners to mandate mask-wearing in their establishments as they see fit, and stated they will work with the Southwest Utah Public Health Department to make sure people at highest risk of contracting COVID-19 are protected. They plan to focus resources toward rapid testing so that people can ensure they don't have the virus before interacting with a high-risk loved one.

"We cannot in good conscience continue to hold livelihoods hostage with guaranteed negative effects for fear of exceeding arbitrary transmission standards," commissioners conclude.

Instead, we will continue to encourage safe behaviors in the least restrictive manner while we carefully monitor the spread of Covid-19 and other social ills in our community."

2News reached out to the Utah Department of Health, which declined to comment on the letter.

A spokesman for the governor's office said she wasn't sure the letter had been shared with them yet, but the governor's staff would look into it.

The new guidelines came with a health order requiring that masks be worn at social gatherings and in public spaces where physical distancing of six feet is not possible. They also discourage gatherings of certain sizes depending on the transmission rate in each county.

For moderate risk counties, social gatherings of 10 or fewer people are permitted until Oct. 29, after which gatherings of 25 or fewer are permitted. More than 25 people can gather if each person wears a face covering.

Businesses are asked to enforce social distancing and mask-wearing and take other safety measures outlined on the state's coronavirus response website.