With 911 new COVID-19 cases reported in Utah on Thursday, Governor Gary Herbert said new health mandates are “on the table” going forward in order to stop the spike in infections.
It’s been a rough week in Utah for new COVID-19 cases with the state’s seven day rolling average now at 661 new cases per day. Last week’s rolling average was only 381 cases per day.
Utah set grim milestones on Wednesday and Thursday as well with 747 and 911 new cases, respectively -- two of the worst days since the start of the pandemic in March.
State Epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn said at Thursday’s weekly COVID-19 briefing that 40% of new cases have come from Utah County, despite the county only making up roughly 20% of the state’s population.
“I’m especially concerned with what we are seeing in Utah County,” Dunn explained. “They have been experiencing a surge for the past three weeks, with the greatest increase in the past week. And there’s parts of Utah County that have infection rates of 1,400 cases per 100,000 people. This is approximately six times greater than the state’s infection rate and we are on pace to match or exceed infection rates that we have seen in the Navajo Nation and in New York City.”
Dunn added the initial surge in cases was driven by the young and healthy with 15-24 year olds making up a majority of new cases, but an increase in cases across all ages has been seen in recent days. She said immediate action must be taken to prevent unnecessary hospitalizations and deaths.
Governor Gary Herbert held an emergency meeting with the state’s Unified Command on Thursday. Herbert said a spike in and of itself is not necessarily surprising given the fact schools reopened in August, but what is alarming is the magnitude of this spike.
He said a willingness to defy public health guidelines by some is deeply troubling.
“I’m alarmed by people who ignore health guidelines and those who are out there promoting social gatherings, almost in defiance of the recommendations by our best minds in science and medicine that say, you know, ‘social distancing is an important aspect of how we slow the spread and how we maintain our economy to stay open,’” said Herbert.
Despite the frightening spike in cases, Governor Herbert stopped short of issuing any new statewide health mandates. However, the Governor did announce that anyone who wants a COVID-19 test will now be able to get one, regardless of whether or not they show symptoms. Details on the new testing protocols will be announced in the coming days.
Governor Herbert also announced that any counties requesting to move to a lower risk level will have their requests postponed until at least next week.
Herbert, along with state and local government and health officials will be meeting over the weekend to determine the next steps in combatting the pandemic. The Governor has been reluctant to issue statewide health mandates in the past, preferring local governments make those decisions, but said intervention by the state may be necessary if the situation warrants it.
“That’s certainly on the table,” he said. “We’ll have those discussions. I think mask mandates, we’ve always said we prefer that to come from the local government officials elected by those in that community. We’ve given everybody opportunities to analyze that and to make decisions and to lead. We’ll take a look at that over the next few days and see if they’re doing enough and if the state needs to intervene or the local health department or the state health department on more aggressive approaches, we’ll wait and see what happens.”
Summit County has had a mandatory mask order in place since June. That order was extended into next year late last month.
More information about Utah's COVID-19 response can be found here.