COVID-19 cases continue to rise and Thursday Governor Gary Herbert issued a mask mandate for all school districts in Utah but he still resists issuing a statewide mask order.
Six hundred and one COVID-19 infections were reported Thursday. This, the day after the highest number of new cases reported on Wednesday, with 722 Utahn’s testing positive for COVID-19. Utah Governor Gary Herbert issued a mask mandate for all K-12 public schools. It applies to staff, students, and visitors. Mask wearing on school buses is also mandated under this order. His order stops short of mandating masks throughout the entire state.
Herbert says he wants people to take responsibility and chose to wear a mask because it’s the right thing to do.
“I don’t want this to become a divisive issue. We already see people out there. Now maybe that we've got passed the campaigns for governor, and others out there, maybe it will become less politicized, I hope. We don’t want to have a divisive situation where people rebel. I hope that doesn't happen. So, we're saying OK, you know what, we’re to this crossroads. Here's the opportunity for us the people to control our destiny without having government come in an mandate. And so, I'm going to try that first and we'll see what happens."
Herbert draws a parallel between the safe and easy practices of wearing a mask, washing hands, socially distancing and staying home when sick, to the more complicated issues of reigniting the economy during the pandemic.
“We’ve done pretty good. Our fatality rate and now is less than 1% -- it’s at .7455% -- it’s the lowest in the nation. Unemployment rate is 8-1/2% [which] was the second lowest in the nation. So on those two metrics we're doing pretty good. I'm concerned about what's going to happen. I want to keep them low and this rising rate of infection is causing me concern.”
Utah Epidemiologist, Dr. Angela Dunn says it is too early to determine the impacts of the mask mandates now in place in Summit and Salt Lake Counties.
“So, I think with any policy change it actually takes a few weeks, if not months to start seeing the results of that policy in our numbers. And so that's something we're watching closely for all of those counties, especially Salt Lake County given their high number of cases, and looking at the case rates, we have some seen some good evidence that their rates have started to not climb as steeply as they have in the past. But again, the next week or so will be really telling to tell us if the impact of the mask mandate is what we had hoped.”
Herbert says they’ll re-evaluate further directives the first of August. The rolling seven-day average has been at 585 new cases a day since dropping alert levels around the state in late May. If it doesn’t drop to 500 or fewer, he leaves open the possibility of more mandates.
“But the lag time is really one of the hardest things for us to analyze. That’s why I want to see what happens over these next three weeks, with a renewed emphasis on us all wearing the mask in appropriate times when we cannot social distance. And let's see what the numbers end up being then. Our goal is to reduce it to below 500 on average per day. If we do that, I will declare some great success. We're moving in the right direction.”
Herbert says they are ramping up testing and asking the laboratories for a quicker turnaround. Anyone with symptoms should be tested. Those who have been exposed to the virus but have no symptoms should wait five to seven days before being tested.
Each school district is required to have a back to school plan in place by August 1st. They’ll have some flexibility in how they’ll bring students back into the classroom safely but wearing masks in the school and on buses is now required.