Summit County's Top Health Official Explains Why Masks Are Now Mandatory
Saturday marked the beginning of Summit County’s mandatory mask order, meaning that people may now get a ticket for not wearing face coverings in public places. The order is intended to slow the spread of COVID-19 while allowing local businesses to remain open.
Summit County Health Director Rich Bullough told KPCW that although numbers like hospitalizations and deaths in the county were good compared to other parts of the state, he was alarmed by several other trends that were heading in the wrong direction.
Summit County’s transmission rate had been increasing since June 10 and was nearly double the state’s goal. Bullough worried that if those trends continued, the county’s intensive care unites could be overrun.
“That suggested to us that in order to keep the economy open, protect the hospital, protect resources, keep people safe, masks were the way to go,” Bullough said. “That’s why we took the action that we did.”
Another worrying metric was the number of cases attributed to visitors. In the early months of the pandemic, Summit County was able to reduce travel spread to zero. Now, 13% of cases in the county are travel-related.
Bullough says travel-related cases are what caused Summit County to host one of the first confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Utah, and with Salt Lake and Wasatch Counties also hotbeds for the disease, limiting the chances of travel spread is a priority.
Bullough adds the increase in travel cases combined with businesses reopening after the initial lockdown created an additional problem: the amount of contacts for each COVID-19 patient has increased exponentially as people become infected out in public as opposed to the disease spreading within a household or friend group.
“The problem is that when businesses were opened, we went from every case seeing one, two, three, maybe up to five or six contacts, and those contacts have to be investigated, they have to be followed up with,” Bullough said. “Now we’re seeing because it’s gone from household spread primarily to business spread, it’s not unusual to see 50 contacts ... for each case.”
According to the Utah Department of Health, as of Monday there have been 485 cases of the coronavirus recorded so far in Summit County, 46 of which have resulted in hospitalizations.
Summit County’s mandatory mask order is in effect until September 1 and officials will review it after the first 14 days.