The Durango Herald is providing free access to this story and other stories that provide critical information about the coronavirus
Your support will help us to continue our work.Subscribe today
San Juan County, Utah, on Friday implemented restrictions on all nonresident camping and nonessential leisurely travel to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
The order came after the Utah county reported its first positive case of COVID-19, a man younger than 65. The announcement came from the San Juan Public Health Department, Utah Navajo Health System and the Navajo Department of Health.
“Just as many other counties do not want San Juan County residents burdening their resources at this time, San Juan County does not have enough resources to welcome leisure visitors to our county at this time,” according to a post on the San Juan County Facebook page Friday.
The notice was signed by San Juan County Sheriff Jason Torgerson, San Juan County Attorney Kendall Laws and San Juan Public Health Director Kirk Benge.
Issued by San Juan County Public Health Department, the order says San Juan County residents are allowed to camp but must meet previous restrictions on social contact. Gatherings of more than 10 people are prohibited. Campers must maintain at least 100 feet between family groups and maintain one camp per designated space.
“We are not trying to discourage outdoor activities, and we also believe there are benefits to outdoor exercise and activities as long as they are done responsibly and in accordance with current social-distancing recommendations,” county officials said. “We ask San Juan County residents to avoid leisurely travel to other areas and also limit nonessential travel.”
Leisure visitors to San Juan County are not allowed to camp, including at developed and primitive sites.
Leisurely travel is defined as travel into San Juan County for the purpose of vacationing or self-quarantining outside your home county or state, county officials said.
“Although we understand the great outdoors may be a good way to self-quarantine, visitors can place heavy burdens upon our resources,” the Facebook post said. “The rural nature of our health care facilities presents us with limited services that are already taxed by a potential COVID-19 incident in our area.”
“One injured visitor who needs overnight medical care means one less hospital bed for all of those who live in the county. Additionally, one visitor case of COVID-19 in our area would take away essential resources from those who live in the county. Leisurely travel in and through San Juan County is prohibited.”
Officials said San Juan County Search and Rescue Division has received numerous calls of visitors stuck in compromising situations in the backcountry.
“Even if a visitor is not exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, they may still be contagious and increase the risk of infection to our essential first responders, who would then need to be quarantined for 14 days,” Utah officials said.
All campers are being contacted by law enforcement officers to ensure compliance with the San Juan Public Health order. Closure signage is being established in popular camping areas.
Violators can be issued citations, county officials said.
There will not be roadblocks or checkpoints to enforce the order, said Sheriff Torgerson, in an interview with The Journal.
“Our officers will be visiting recreation areas and campgrounds educating people of the order,” he said. “People from outside the county will be asked to go back home and be safe.”
He said the order is a directive from the county health department, and the Sheriff’s Office is working to enforce it.
Restricting visitation is because of a concern the county’s limited emergency resources could get overwhelmed if campgrounds and the backcountry become crowded with people attempting to self-quarantine.
“We are a small county with a lot of recreation areas and are concerned about an increase in rescue calls. We’re asking for public cooperation because we need our emergency resources to respond to this virus at this time,” he said.
Torgerson said he has reached out to local officers to enforce the order and inform the public. The law enforcement agencies include the Blanding and Monticello police departments, Utah Highway Patrol, Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service.
“Please, if you are not a San Juan County resident, postpone any plans for an overnight stay in San Juan County, Utah, whether that be in a lodging facility or camping, and help us protect our small community,” county officials said. “All of us in San Juan County thank you for your support, and we will welcome you back when this ordeal passes.”
firstname.lastname@example.orgThis is a developing story. Check for an update at the-journal.com.