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Reporting from the St. George area focused on local government, public lands and the environment, indigenous issues and faith and spirituality.

Kane County Asks State To Lower Transmission Level, Says Jail Outbreak Skews Data

Photo of road to Red Knoll.
David Fuchs
The Kane County Commission is asking the state to exclude jail data from its transmission level designation.

Kane County has one of the highest COVID-19 two-week incident rates in Utah, but the county commission is asking the state not to designate it as a high transmission area.

In a letter to the governor’s office and Utah Department of Health, commissioners said a COVID-19 outbreak at the jail “skews” the data. They asked the state to review their designation without counting jail cases.

Richard Saunders, the executive director of UDOH, responded to the commissioners agreeing to only include county inmates. The letter states “county inmates are more likely to be released from jail and are more likely to remain in Kane County.”

The jail was one of the last in the state to have a COVID-19 outbreak, according to Sheriff Tracy Glover. It started in early February, and so far 144 of the 180 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19. He said now there are around 117 active cases and eight of them are county inmates.

“It's a little bit misleading to think that those inmates would have created some vulnerability to the local population,” Glover said. “There's just really no physical way that aside from breaking out of the jail, they could actually interact with the Kane County public.”

As of Friday, there have been 608 total COVID-19 cases in Kane County since the start of the pandemic and there are 122 active cases.

The major differences between what the state designates as low and high transmission counties are gathering limits and health orders for businesses. Gyms, bars and restaurants can be fully open at low transmission levels. It's also recommended to limit gathering sizes to 10 people in high transmission areas. In low transmission there is no official recommendation.

Kane County Attorney Rob Van Dyke said the county is frustrated that the state only partially granted their request. The push by the county to move to a lower level is not just about allowing larger gatherings, Van Dyke said it’s about showing the actual risk in the area.

“If the vast majority of people are just disregarding the law, does the law have any power?” Van Dyke said. “That distrust that builds in a community against their government that's imposing restrictions that aren't justified — that's a big problem.”

The Utah Department of Health reviews transmission data on Wednesday and updates levels on Thursday.

Lexi is KUER's Southwest Bureau reporter
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