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Utah Drops Color Code. Adopts New System For COVID-19 Restrictions

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Utah is one of several states reporting a surge in coronavirus hospitalizations, so the governor and state health officials have created a new system to trigger COVID-related restrictions. Here's Sonja Hutson from member station KUER.

SONJA HUTSON, BYLINE: Utah is recording almost double the amount of new cases it did during the peak of its summer surge, and those numbers are expected to rise even more. That worries Gov. Gary Herbert, who says the state's intensive care unit capacity is almost 70% full.

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GARY HERBERT: This leaves our hospitals precariously close to being unable to treat COVID patients in need of critical care and to also provide emergency care to Utahns experiencing other life-threatening conditions.

HUTSON: To try to prevent that from happening, Herbert says it's time for a new game plan. Under the new transmission index system, counties will automatically be moved to different levels - high, moderate or low - based on their per capita case count, test positivity rate and the state's intensive care unit capacity.

Here's state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn.

ANGELA DUNN: What's really encouraging here is that we are using data, which is an objective measure, to drive where counties are.

HUTSON: In the past, Herbert has been reluctant to institute wide-ranging, stricter measures. But now masks are required in high-transmission areas. Rich Saunders, the state health department's interim executive director, says for the next two weeks, they'll also be required in moderate-transmission areas. After that, they're just strongly recommended.

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RICH SAUNDERS: If you take the politics out and you look at the science, masks just work.

HUTSON: Enforcement of the restrictions, including mask requirements, is up to local jurisdictions.

For NPR News, I'm Sonja Hutson in Salt Lake City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.