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Gov. Gary Herbert has no plans to downsize Utah’s economy, despite an alarming rise in coronavirus cases, and is resisting the state’s two most prominent mayors by refusing to demand that masks be worn in public.
Herbert’s office released a statement Tuesday saying that he and his pandemic response team were considering appropriate responses to the recent surge in COVID-19 cases.
“But the governor has made it clear that the so-called ‘closure’ is not under consideration at this time,” the statement said. “Even under Utah’s ‘Stay Safe, Stay Home’ directive, most of the economy was allowed to proceed with caution.
“The Governor remains a strong advocate of regularity[ly] wearing a covered face in public when physical distancing is not possible, ”he added. “He wears a mask every day at all his meetings and expects it from those who meet him. We hope that all Utahns will follow common sense embedded in our current guidelines. ”
But Herbert does not compel residents of the state. The Utah Department of Health recommends that face covers be worn in public, but there is no legal requirement for anyone to do so.
The governor was pressured via Twitter Tuesday morning by Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson and Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall. They sent tweets that support the mask requirements in the state.
“The masks are estimated to be 75% to 82% effective in preventing the spread of COVID,” Mendenhall tweeted. “Demanding that they be used in public across the state could help us change course and save lives.”
For his part, Wilson announced at a council meeting Tuesday afternoon that he had sent a letter to Herbert formally requesting that he allow the county to require facial masks in commercial and retail establishments.
“This is not an easy decision,” said Wilson, “but I am afraid that if we do not act now, we cannot put the genie back in the bottle.”
Wilson said letting county residents and visitors choose for themselves was not working. “I am one of those who believes in the best intentions of our public, but there is a reason why we have seatbelt laws: it saves lives. There is a reason why we have regulations. [This] It is temporary, but it will move the needle. “
County Council members expressed their support for the mandate, noting that they also intended to send a letter to the Governor.
Council member Steve DeBry expressed alarm at the number of people he sees not wearing masks or practicing social distancing.
“For me, it’s similar to smoking laws,” said DeBry. “Someone has the right to smoke a cigarette, that’s fine, but I have the right not to inhale it.”
Over the past week, the state has averaged about 470 new cases of COVID-19 per day. There were 394 new cases and five additional deaths Tuesday, bringing the number of Utah coronavirus fatalities to 163.
On Monday night, Herbert tweeted that he appreciated the note and promised to work to curb the rise in COVID-19, but said he “has no plans to shut down Utah’s economy,” a position he reaffirmed on Tuesday.
Health experts have encouraged facial coatings as a way to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, especially to protect vulnerable populations. The linings prevent the drops from the mouth or nose from traveling beyond the infected person who drops them. They mainly benefit others in the vicinity of an infected person.
Fifteen states and the District of Columbia currently require residents to wear a mask in public, according to a CNN map.
It’s “pretty obvious,” said Dr. Gary Edwards, director of the Salt Lake County Health Department, that “facial coatings are not used in the way that they could or should be.”
He said that Herbert’s order to order masks in public “would place much more emphasis on” efforts to encourage their use. “
“We would like,” added Edwards, “to get a certain hit. [in usage] for a period of time.”
The Utah Hospital Association launched a campaign Tuesday #MaskUpUtah. On social media, radio, and commercials, the push in English and Spanish will encourage Utahns to wear face covers to protect people most at risk of death or serious illness if they get the virus.
In a graphic ad, a woman poses in a medical mask. The words “I do it for me” are in the text next to the woman with the word “Mom” written on her mask.
“Masking is not about you,” said Dr. Michael Baumann, medical director of MountainStar Healthcare. “Masking is about everyone around you.”
Baumann and other speakers at Tuesday’s virtual press conference, broadcast live online, emphasized that physical distancing and handwashing are still the best ways to prevent the spread. But, when distancing is not an option, the masks will help Utah reduce the infection rate.
Dr. Mark Briesacher, medical executive director of Intermountain Healthcare, offered support to Dunn and the rest of the Utah Department of Health. He gave them credit for helping to identify problem areas during the pandemic and coordinating a response.
“That thoughtful leadership, experience and guidance they have provided,” he said, “is really important.”
Some Utah spiritual leaders also wonder how to step on the subject of masks.
At Edgemont Ninth Ward, a congregation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Provo, masks will be required for services on the first and third Sundays of the month. The second and fourth Sunday will be optional.
Joey Franklin, the 39-year-old elders quorum president of the ward, said that since neither the church nor the Utah government has mandated that masks be worn in public, although both have recommended it, lay leaders in his ward were concerned that they could not require them.
“We didn’t want to be in a position where we had to pull someone away from the meeting,” said Franklin.
However, he heard from some parishioners that they would not feel comfortable going to services without everyone wearing a mask. So, neighborhood leaders devised the forked solution, which also helps keep attendees below 100. The neighborhood’s first face-to-face service since the pandemic hit Utah will be on Sunday. It is the fourth Sunday of the month. Then the masks will be optional.
Franklin’s three children, the oldest of whom is 17, will not be there on Sunday. “I don’t feel comfortable having my children in a room full of people who don’t wear masks,” said Franklin.
All services will include COVID-19 precautions, Franklin said, which include leaving each bench empty, homes sitting 6 feet away, and the sacrament or communion trays being handled by specific individuals rather than passing from person to person. other.
There will be no singing.
Masks will be required in some Latter-day Saint congregations because top church leaders have promised to heed all the guidelines set by public officials and health care authorities. In temples of faith, where members perform their most sacred rites and have been slowly reopening to limited services, the church has insisted that “all government and public health directives be observed,” including “the use of equipment security like masks. “
Kirsten Rappleye, chief of staff to Lt. Governor Spencer Cox, told the state’s Multicultural Commission Tuesday that the “next phase” of the state’s public information campaign will be to ask Utah residents to exercise more personal responsibility and take action. to help others.
“There is a specific approach,” he said, “trying to emphasize how to move forward when we see these spikes in cases, it really is up to you as a family member or community member” to help stop the spread of the virus.
That message will be broadcast to the public, Rappleye noted, in both English and Spanish.
– Tribune journalists Leia Larsen, Sean P. Means and Taylor Stevens contributed to this article.
Correction: June 23, 8:15 pm • An earlier version of this story misidentified the healthcare professional who, during the #MaskUpUtah press conference, offered support to Dr. Angela Dunn and the Utah Department of Health. It was Dr. Mark Briesacher, chief medical officer of Intermountain Healthcare.