Salt Lake County plans to modify its public health order that limits gatherings to 10 people in order to slow the spread of coronavirus.
This comes after concerns from Gov. Gary Herbert over penalties associated with the order. In a series of tweets Thursday night, Herbert said that Salt Lake County did not consult with the state about its public health order and the county should repeal it immediately.
The order said violations would be a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine or jail time.
“We did not expect the emphasis on penalty, and law enforcement and fines,” Herbert said. “We didn't think that was probably a good message … the gathering of 10 or fewer is a recommendation.”
Herbert sent out another set of tweets Friday, telling Utahns to expect an updated order soon.
Update on instructions re: mass gatherings — we strongly recommend that people avoid large group gatherings (10+), but the State does not intend to threaten residents with criminal prosecution, which is why we are amending recently issued orders.
— Gov. Gary Herbert (@GovHerbert) March 20, 2020
Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson, though, said the county didn’t do anything wrong, and she directed the county not to enforce those penalties.
“The state code requires all local health department orders to be attached to penalties,” Wilson said. “For that to change, we would need the Legislature to repeal that section of the code. And a governor's tweet cannot repeal that section of the code.”
Still, Wilson said the county is working with the state to clarify the language around penalties in the order.
Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs, who is running for Salt Lake County Mayor, called the penalties “problematic” and said in a statement he had directed Riverton police not to enforce them.
“Committing valuable police resources to enforcing such an order, to me, would not at all be beneficial, nor prioritizing the health and safety of our residents,” Staggs said in a statement. “It seems disingenuous to me that the county would have created this order at a time when courts are shutting down and only prosecuting the most serious of crimes.”
Sonja Hutson covers politics for KUER. Follow her on Twitter @SonjaHutson