Wasatch County doesn’t plan to issue a mandate to wear masks in public, but the county health department indicated at a Wednesday meeting that it is watching the data and keeping its options open.
As of Thursday, Wasatch County has reported 414 cases, 20 hospitalizations and 3 deaths due to COVID-19, according to the Utah Department of Health.
Wasatch County Health Department Director Randall Probst told the council his department is sharing the message that wearing a mask in public helps protect others. Probst says they’re addressing people’s questions about the effectiveness of masks. One common misconception, he said, is that masks aren’t effective because the virus particles are small enough to penetrate the cloth fibers of the masks.
While it’s true that the masks don’t stop the virus particles themselves, their main utility is to catch the much larger water droplets that are the virus’s main mode of transportation.
“Whether you’re talking, whether you’re singing, whether you’re coughing or whether you’re sneezing, all of those are different levels of droplets both in size and velocity,” Probst said. “Some will (get through), it won’t be 100%, but one of the advantages of the masks is even the ones they don’t stop, they slow down.”
Probst says there’s increased concern from Utah hospitals about capacity, which prompted the launch of the state health department’s “Mask Up” campaign. He says Wasatch County doesn’t have any regular intensive care unit beds, but there is some capacity to do some emergency ICU care until patients can be transferred to larger facilities.
“That’s happening from all over the state, not just their own area, but all the rural areas,” Probst says. “A lot of the rural areas that do not have ICU beds and some of them are a lot farther to transfer the patient than what we are. So one or two from us doesn't sound like much, but when you get one or two from 20 other counties it starts to fill up the beds.”
Summit County recently issued an order requiring those in the county wear a mask while out in public. In order to get the order approved the county had to seek approval from the governor’s office. Probst says Wasatch County would have to follow a similar process to institute a mask mandate, but he doesn’t necessarily recommend that.
“The general feeling has been that there’s been less resistance to wearing masks when we simply ask and give good education as to why it’s important to wear masks than when we tend to mandate things,” he said. “When we mandate, that seems to be met with more resistance than proper education. So, that’s where we are. We are considering all the time—we're always looking at it, looking at our data, looking at what do we need to do to not get out of control here. You as a body—one of the reasons we do this report as often as we do is to draw from you and to say what do you want to have happen?”
The council gave no indication at the Wednesday meeting that they would institute a mask mandate in Wasatch County at this time.