Mask Up Utah: State Health Experts Roll Out Initiative To Slow COVID-19 Spread

Jun 24, 2020

 

Utah state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn dons a mask during a press conference in early June.
Credit Press Pool

The Utah Hospital Association has introduced a new initiative to get Utahns to wear masks and slow the spread of COVID-19.

 

Representatives from University of Utah Health, Intermountain Healthcare, MountainStar Hospitals and Steward Healthcare participated in a video conference presentation Tuesday afternoon to introduce the Mask Up Utah initiative.  

The initiative encourages Utah residents to wear masks in public to help slow the spread of COVID-19 as a spike in case numbers in the state has caused concern among Utah’s health experts. State epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn released a memo stating that if Utah can’t decrease the rate of infection by July 1, she recommends the entire state be moved to the “Orange” risk level of Gov. Gary Herbert’s pandemic response plan. 

 

Health experts on local, state and national levels have encouraged wearing masks to prevent the spread of the disease. Dr. Arlen Jarrett, chief medical officer for Steward Healthcare, says despite how people feel about masks, there’s data to show that they work. 

 

“Sometimes it feels like it might be an infringement upon our freedom if we feel like people are telling us we must do this especially if we don't want to,” he said. “But here’s some data out of the University of Iowa; they looked at all of the states in the United States and looked at their rate of spread up until May 22. They compared the states as to whether or not they have universal masking program in the state. If every state without a universal masking program had behaved like the states that did have universal masking program, they calculate that up to May 22 in the United States we would have seen 450,000 fewer cases of COVID transmission because the states where people are wearing masks have less spread of COVID disease.” 

 

MountainStar Chief Medical Officer Michael Bowman says they don’t have all the data to know how effective masks are but they know enough that they believe all Utahns should be wearing masks in public. 

 

“Do we need to do a study about wearing parachutes when we jump out of airplanes,” Bowman said. “This is called common sense, guys. We need to be doing what we need with masking to prevent spread. We would like more data but what we don't have is the time to wait for that data. This is very common sense, we need to be doing it now.” 

Utah Hospital Association President and CEO Gregg Bell says in order to prevent mask-wearing from becoming politicized, the initiative has to be non-governmental.  

 

Dr. Mark Briesacher, Intermountain senior vice president and chief physician executive, agreed that mask-wearing is not a partisan issue. 

 

“Every day we get into our cars and we put on our seatbelts, follow guidelines, and rules, regulations,” Briesacher said. “We’re thoughtful in that way because that helps keep you safe, it helps keep me safe, it helps keep my family safe. In many ways I think this mask is just another seat belt that we need to put on every day.” 

 

Utah residents who do not have the means to acquire a face mask can order one for free through the Mask for Every Utahn program.