I hate to do stenography, but in the context that I was on vacation last week, sometimes you have to stoop to garbage journalism to remind yourself of the higher aims.

Hospital CEO: “The right thing” for vaccinated Moabites is to mask in public

Breakthrough cases threaten unvaccinated, children under 12

Grand County has one major thing going right for it as COVID-19 resurges in Utah: Vaccination rates locally beat the statewide average. The county also has a major thing going wrong for it: The delta variant is making even vaccinated people more contagious.

Evidence continues to show that vaccines approved for emergency use in the U.S. are highly effective in reducing the severity of disease, even from the detla variant of COVID-19. Breakthrough cases are on the rise, but they are less common than cases in unvaccinated people.

In Grand County specifically, the only people hospitalized for COVID-19 have been unvaccinated people, according to Moab Regional Hospital CEO Jen Sadoff. However, vaccinated people are sometimes catching the disease and spreading it to unvaccinated people.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed its mask guidance last week in response to a surge in the delta variant and breakthrough cases. The guidance calls for vaccinated individuals to mask in public spaces in areas with high or substantial levels of community transmission.

As of August 3, Grand County was in the CDC’s high transmission category. At the same time, the county was in the state’s low transmission category. The disparity is likely the result of differing standards between the CDC and the state.

Sadoff affirmed that “the right thing” to do for vaccinated people in Grand County was to mask in public spaces. She reminded the Grand County Commission in an update Tuesday, Aug. 3 that the primary purpose of masks is to protect others from the wearer.

“The whole idea that vaccinated people didn’t need to wear masks in public places and wouldn’t be spreading COVID has just not really panned out,” Sadoff said. “Although people are getting frustrated, the right thing to do by people in our community is, if you go out in a public space, put a mask on.”

She said that the most effective measure against COVID-19 was for people to get vaccinated, but she reminded the commission that children under 12 are still not eligible.

In Utah, the State Legislature has precluded general mask mandates by cities and counties, but Grand and Moab still have discretion with respect to their own properties and employees.

The Grand County Commission voted Tuesday, Aug. 3 to approve safeguard rules that will come into effect if case rates reach a level deemed high by the state’s scale. The rules would require masking of all staff and visitors in county buildings.

The vote came after the update earlier in the meeting from Sadoff and Southeast Utah Health Department Director Brady Bradford.

The two shared warning signs that disease spread would likely worsen among K-12 students across Utah in the coming weeks with the start of school imminent, kids younger than 12 not qualifying for the vaccine, and the delta variant posing a greater threat than the original version of COVID-19.

Bradford said that the county could require masks in schools for a 30-day period at the shared discretion of the health department and county commission, but it was not immediately clear whether officials would have the authority to renew the mask mandate on an ongoing basis.

Bradford also shared statistics showing that the vaccination rate among long-term care facility staff in southeastern Utah was low — 56% to be exact. The rate of staff vaccination at the Canyonlands Care Center is higher, and all but one resident of the center was vaccinated by February.

Bradford also shared a silver lining for Grand County: That vaccine uptake locally has beaten the state average.

According to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 53% of Grand County residents are fully vaccinated, compared to 45% in San Juan County, 33% in Carbon, and 46% statewide.

“When I’m thinking about vaccines and I want to be happy, I generally think about Grand County,” Bradford said. He said vaccination efforts, which remain the strongest hope in suppressing COVID-19, will continue locally.

Grand backtracks to approve sustainable tourism marketing

The disputed videos depict responsible use of off-highway vehicles

After voting against airing two videos about responsible tourism two weeks prior, the Grand County Commission voted Tuesday, Aug. 3 to air the ads after Sand Flats Recreation Area Director Andrea Brand implored the commission to reconsider.

The pair of votes is another in an ongoing conflict in Grand County over off-highway vehicles. Previously, the commission imposed limits on local rental companies and established noise ordinances targeting the machines, which are not subject to noise standards set by the U.S. Department of Transportation, in April.

Commissioners in their initial vote over the videos framed the matter as one about whether off-highway vehicle use in Grand County was desirable. Commissioners in their later vote said that the ads would serve to promote responsible use of the vehicles.

Grand County Commissioner Sarah Stock led the charge against the marketing material, which would have aired on Emery Telcom’s channel 6. The channel reaches many local lodgings and airs in other businesses around the county.

When people are flipping through channels in their hotel room, this is one they’re going to see (the UTV video). They see a picture of Moab, and what we present is people renting UTVs and OHVs and talking about how to drive in the desert. It says, ‘this is what we do in the desert,’ and it encourages people to do that.

Grand County Commissioner Sarah Stock; July 20, 2021

Discussion Tuesday afternoon led elected officials back to their positions on the vehicles themselves. Grand County Commission Chair Mary McGann said that she regretted the invention of the UTV, a popular type of off-highway vehicle.

I’m just sad that UTVs were invented. We were not complaining about motorized vehicles in the backcountry until UTVs arrived and became so popular. I wish people would just go back to Jeeps.

Mary McGann, Grand County Commission chair; Aug. 3, 2021

Grand County Commissioner Kevin Walker nodded his approval. McGann had also said that “Jeeps have been part of Moab from the onset” and alluded to stories of Bates Wilson, known to some as the father of Canyonlands National Park, taking Secretaries of the Interior through the park prior to its establishment.

Bates led those tours in Jeeps.

The initial vote on the videos during the commission’s July 20 meeting rejected two of six videos previously approved by the county’s Sustainable Trails Promotion Committee. The vote regarded spending $6,150 of the millions of lodging tax dollars the county must spend each year it levies the tax.

One of the rejected vidoes was about responsible use of off-highway vehicles, focusing on safety and staying on designated trails. The other explained state laws regarding on-highway use of off-highway vehicles.

After the commission voted to reject them, Brand later asked the commission to reconsider approving the videos, created with public and nonprofit funds and later approved by the promotion committee.

Stock swayed her counterparts into a 5-0-2 vote to reject the two videos about responsible off-highway vehicle use and to approve the four other videos, which depict mountain biking, hiking, and local search and rescue operations.

Commissioners Evan Clapper and Jacques Hadler, both of whom sit on the promotion committee that approved the videos, abstained from the first vote.

Brand was absent for the agenda item, which was slated for expedited approval but later pulled for discussion by Stock. Brand emailed the commission the next day, expressing regret she had not been present for the discussion and saying it was important that the county convey “positive and accurate messaging out to our motorized recreationists.”

Regarding the video about responsible off-highway use of off-highway vehicles, Brand said that the Bureau of Land Management, local law enforcement, local outfitters, and Sand Flats staffers all came together to create it.

Motorized recreation is a part of Moab. In the last few years, as you well know, riding UTVs has become very popular. This new user group needs to be educated about safety, “Stay on the Trail” messaging, courtesy and so forth. Myself, Sand Flats staff and Stewardship Committee and the BLM all believe that this video does this successfully.

Andrea Brand, Sand Flats Recreation Area director; July 21, 2021

Regarding on-highway use, she said that the topic “has been very confusing for visitors,” making it important to explain to off-highway vehicle users.

Commissioners expressed agreement with Brand on Tuesday and voted 6-1 to approve the ads. Stock cast the lone vote against.