Two Utah County businesses that told employees to ignore COVID-19 guidelines and instructed staff who tested positive for COVID-19 to report to work were not shut down by the Utah County Health Department, and, as of Wednesday, state health officials say they don’t know of any plans to issue fines or citations against the employers.
On Monday evening, Utah County Commissioners Tanner Ainge, Bill Lee and Nathan Ivie, as well as the mayors of each city in the county, released a statement saying that contact tracing performed by the Utah County Health Department and Utah Department of Health revealed that two businesses “instructed employees to not follow quarantine guidelines after exposure to a confirmed case at work and required employees with a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis to still report to work.”
Ralph Clegg, executive director of the Utah County Health Department, said in an interview on Wednesday that “the Health Department has not shut down any business for COVID-19,” including the two unnamed businesses mentioned in the statement from county executives.
“Both businesses are currently operating,” Clegg said. “One business, because of the nature of the business, needed to shut down and close (temporarily). But even the other business, I think, has done what we asked them to do as far as cleaning up and sanitizing.”
Clegg added that the Utah County Health Department would not release the names, locations or any details about the nature of the businesses “because this information (about the businesses ignoring guidelines) comes up because of our epidemiological investigations, and we have to respect the privacy of the individuals that are involved in this.”
“We weigh those things very — the people’s right to know and privacy of individuals,” he said. “In this case, the businesses were not businesses where people would be walking in and out and getting services, and so there’s no reason to make it open to the public. Because we don’t have to do contact tracing in that way, because we’re able to get the contacts from the people who have had the exposures at the businesses.”
The Daily Herald filed a public records request on Wednesday requesting documents related to contact tracing conducted by the Utah County Health Department.
Clegg said the Health Department didn’t shut down the businesses because the employers adjusted their practices after the contact tracing was conducted.
“The businesses, once they found out that these were not acceptable practices, have since cooperated and have been working with us to make sure that we can minimize any impacts from the exposures there,” the Utah County Health Department director said.
Angela Dunn, state epidemiologist of the Utah Department of Health, echoed Clegg’s comments in a press conference on Wednesday and said neither of the businesses had had close interactions with the public.
“We at the Department of Health have been working very closely with the Utah County Health Department and those businesses to identify any of the employees with COVID-19, their close contacts, and implement prevention measures,” Dunn said. “Neither of these two businesses have direct interactions with the general public. Therefore, the risk to the general public is very, very low.”
Dunn added that health officials “always work to protect privacy and balance that with protecting the public’s health.”
“And, in this instance, we are able to protect the public’s health while maintaining privacy for the business and the employees,” said Dunn.
When asked by a reporter whether any fines or citations would be issued against either of the businesses, Dunn said she didn’t know of any.
“Utah County did not have any orders in place when these outbreaks occurred, and so I’m unaware of any regulations or kind of enforcement that’s going to be going on with these organizations,” she said. “But we’re working, on the public health side, to ensure that spread has stopped throughout these companies and (is) then prevented in further workplaces in the area.”
The refusal of the state and Utah County health departments to release the business names or locations led to speculation on social media that one of the businesses was located in Payson after reports that the city became a COVID-19 hotspot over the weekend.
A statement attributed to Payson City Manager David Tuckett said the city is “monitoring the situation daily and we’ve talked to the director of the Utah County Health Department yesterday … (who) indicated that the Utah County Health Department did not shut down any business in Payson.”
Clegg said he was “not aware of a business in Payson” that had violated quarantine safety guidelines.