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The City Journals

Holladay City government responds to coronavirus

Mar 19, 2020 03:07PM ● By Zak Sonntag

Holladay officials suspended the use of city facilities at the urging of state public health officials in an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19, which the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared a pandemic in March. (Image by Pete Linforth/Pixabay)

By Zak Sonntag | [email protected]

Holladay officials suspended the use of city facilities at the urging of state public health officials in an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19, which the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared a pandemic in March. The city has postponed its art show, a Unified Fire Authority banquet and a town hall meeting for congressman John Curtis, all of which were set to take place at City Hall.

“The best defense against infection is to try to keep it contained. I don’t think the steps we’re taking are too aggressive. I think they are appropriate,” said Mayor Rob Dahle.

City officials are drafting a continuity plan that will allow essential government functions to operate without increases in the risks to public health. “Many of our staff functions can be done from home, and we’ll evaluate which positions can work remotely, and be prepared to make the necessary adjustments,” said Gina Chamness, Holladay city manager.

The state requires municipalities to hold public hearings at least once a month, which will pose challenges if conditions worsen.

“We will be working on technical solutions for council members to meet remotely, as long as there is an ‘anchor point’ where representatives are allowed to participate in public meetings remotely,” Chamness said.

The need to limit small groups may also force the city to postpone the hearing for certain applicants if indicators suggest heightened public interest. “We may need to delay applicant hearings if we anticipate a lot of attendance,” said Chamness.

“I think the message is simple — pretty much all public gatherings are on hold,” Dahle said.

COVID-19 and emergency responders

The challenges will prove especially trying for emergency responders, who face an even larger threat of exposure to the virus.

“Inevitably this will put us at risk. And we’ve had to adapt,” explained Mathew McFarland, spokesman for the Unified Fire Authority (UFA). UFA has developed new screening questions that allow emergency responders to quickly determine the probability of virus exposure. “If there is a probability of exposure, instead of having six guys charge into someone’s living room, we are going to limit the primary patient response to one person,” McFarland said. “We’re going to increase our precautions, but it doesn’t mean we’re going to compromise care. If we’re talking about things like heart failure, we’re going to do everything we need to. The preexisting mentality of people in this line of work is that we signed up for increased risk factors.”

In probable virus cases, emergency responders will wear increased protective clothing, including masks, eye protection and gowns. That protective gear will then be disposed of, and responders may be compelled to go into self-isolation.

As the virus continues to spread, it threatens to put greater financial burdens on UFA, which is the state’s largest department with over 700 employees. “We cannot put the public at risk, and we don’t want to become a part of the problem, so as exposure increases, we’re going to have a lot of members in isolation. That means we’re going to have to back-fill those positions and we could be paying a lot of overtime.”

UFA board members are in discussions about necessary steps to meet the growing financial challenge.

“Our team is an optimistic and pragmatic bunch. We relish a new challenge. We’re problems solvers,” McFarland said.