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Should Utahns Shelter In Place To Prevent More Coronavirus Deaths?

Photo of a sign in a restaurant window explaining that dine-in operations are suspended.
Renee Bright
Utah has ordered all restaurants to ban dining in and recommended that people limit gatherings to 10 people, but for now the state isn’t ordering people to shelter in place.";

California and New York have both ordered people to shelter in place or stay at home to help slow the spread of coronavirus. 

Should Utah do the same? The message from state leaders is, for now, no. 

“We know that people are going to do the right thing and maintain social distance, especially when ill, so that we don't have to get to that point,” state epidemiologist Angela Dunn said. 

The idea of social distancing, ranging from limiting mass gatherings to ordering people to shelter in place at home, is to slow the rate of new infections over time so that hospitals don’t run out of beds. 

Utah has ordered all restaurants to ban dining in and has recommended that Utahns keep gatherings to 10 people or less. 

But many residents, including Alex Orvin from Davis County, have noticed that people aren’t always following those guidelines. 

“They need to just lock the state down, get people to stay home and get a handle on it,” Orvin said. “Because it's just going to keep getting worse. I feel like they could have stopped this back when the cases started coming in.” 

If the state continues social distancing, it could run out of hospital beds by mid-April, according to a prediction by public health experts and computer scientists. But if the state institutes a three month shelter in place, that analysis said the number of hospitalizations will stay more than 3,000 under the number of beds available. That would also result in 46,000 fewer deaths.

Although Utah has fewer cases than New York and California, University of Utah political science professor Phillip Singer said there’s also a political reason the state isn’t looking to put more stringent quarantine measures in place. 

“Utah is a lot more conservative of a state,” Singer said. “Keeping government out of the normal operations, allowing individuals to make their own choices, certainly jives a little bit more with the conservative ethos in the state of Utah.”

Even if Utah did give a shelter in place order, it could follow California’s lead by not enforcing it with law enforcement, Singer said.

Sonja Hutson covers politics for KUER. Follow her on Twitter @SonjaHutson

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