Summit County requested the authority to issue a mandatory mask order from Utah Gov. Gary Herbert’s administration on Thursday, citing a nine-day increase in positive cases in the county and a transmission rate nearly twice that of the state’s goal.
County Health Director Rich Bullough said in the request, which was addressed to Utah State Department of Health interim director Jeff Burton, that Summit County’s proxy transmission rate of the coronavirus was at 2.5, while Utah is aiming to reduce that rate statewide to 1.5. Summit County is the second county in the state to request the exemption from Herbert’s ban on mask requirements after Salt Lake County.
Bullough also says Summit County has only four available ICU beds and worries that if the trend continues and no action is taken, local hospitals could become overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.
Bullough, in the request, adds that the business community and resort economy of Summit County cannot endure a return to the state’s “orange” risk level without “catastrophic economic damage.” He says State Epidemiologist Dr. Angel Dunn’s recommendation of mandatory mask regulations provides the county a solution that could be implemented immediately and without shutting down the local economy.
Of Summit County’s 477 reported infections since the first was reported in March, 45 have led to hospitalizations as of Thursday, according to the state health department. There have been no deaths linked to COVID-19 reported in the county.
Governor Herbert reiterated on Wednesday his belief in local control over whether wearing a mask during the COVID-19 pandemic should be mandatory.
Summit County officials first told KPCW on Tuesday the county was interested in pursuing a countywide mask order if the option was available to it. The request would require individuals wear a mask while waiting to enter and once they’re inside any indoor public space, healthcare facility, or community gathering.
Exemptions would be granted for small children and people who cannot wear face coverings for medical reasons.
Summit County Councilman Glenn Wright says that although it would be hard to enforce a mandatory mask order for everyone out in public, it would give businesses more authority when dealing with customers who refuse to wear a mask.
“If we give them the authority to say ‘look, the county is making this mandatory, we really need you to wear a mask,’ it gives them a little better standing with customers coming in,” Wright said. “I think what we would see is if someone is getting obnoxious with a business saying ‘you can’t make me do it, I’m coming in,’ that’s the kind of person we could possibly go out and cite.”
Summit County’s request now awaits approval by the Governor’s office.