The Governor of Utah may have found the perfect way to mitigate an increasingly widespread outbreak of the coronavirus. Governor Gary Herbert, a Republican, issued a statewide mask mandate as he declared a state of emergency in Utah on Sunday night. He and the Utah Department of Health issued executive and public health orders to accomplish a refined mitigation approach. He is not going to shut down the state’s economy.
Some of Utah’s larger counties already had face mask mandates in place. But, though the cases of the virus have been rising over the last two months, Governor Herbert has hesitated to issue a statewide mask mandate. Herbert went on television to talk to Utah residents and explain what the new restrictions to mitigate the spread of the virus will be. The time to debate the subject has passed, he said. The good news is that he will not shut down businesses.
State officials sent out an emergency alert to state residents on their phones Sunday to alert them to Herbert’s televised address outlining the orders.
Earlier Sunday, Utah health authorities announced a new high in the number of coronavirus hospitalizations as well as 2,386 more COVID-19 cases as the pandemic surges. Some 424 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 on Sunday, according to the Utah Department of Health. On Friday, hospitalizations stood at a then-record 395 COVID-19 patients.
Herbert’s office said in a statement Sunday that the mask-wearing mandate will be extended beyond Nov. 23 “for the foreseeable future.”
Utah’s seven-day average of new daily cases has reached a record-breaking 2,290. In the past two weeks, Utah’s positivity average – the percentage of coronavirus tests that are positive – has increased from 18.5% to 20.6%, according to state data. At least 659 residents have died of the coronavirus and more than 132,000 have been infected.
Due to the alarming rate of COVID infections within our state, tonight I issued a new state of emergency with several critical changes to our response. These changes are not shutting down our economy, but are absolutely necessary to save lives and hospital capacity. #utpol pic.twitter.com/BuSNBsCbiz
— Gov. Gary Herbert (@GovHerbert) November 9, 2020
The governor’s mandate states that businesses must require their employees to wear face masks and to post a notice to customers that masks are required to be worn by them, too. Any business that fails to follow the mask mandate will be fined. He addresses the personal freedom aspect of the mandate that states personal safety is an issue for everyone and uses seat belt laws as an example. Most importantly, he is not shutting down businesses. He is focusing on social gatherings. His sounds like a very reasonable approach. The focus on restricting social settings is for a period of two weeks, from Monday (today) to November 23. The incubation period for the virus is 14 days. The mask mandate will continue “for the foreseeable future.”
His new set of rules also calls for a two-week pause on extracurricular activities including athletic events, with the exception of high school championship games and Intercollegiate athletic events as long as testing and social distancing guidelines are adhered to. Herbert also ordered a limit on “casual social gatherings” to household members only.
By Jan. 1, all students at public and private universities who attend at least one class per week in person must be tested for COVID-19 on a weekly basis.
“To make a real difference in slowing the spread of COVID-19 and turning around the dire situation in our hospitals, we all need to do more,” the governor said in a statement. “This is a sacrifice for all of us. But as we slow the spread it will make all the difference for our overworked healthcare workers, who desperately need our help.”
The announcement came after Utah’s largest teachers union called on Friday for the governor to move all public secondary schools in high coronavirus transmission areas to remote learning.
The Utah Education Association also called for Herbert to suspend all extracurricular activities that can’t comply with social distancing guidelines in high transmission areas from the Thanksgiving holiday throughout winter break.
When discussing the limitation on “casual social gatherings”, the governor said he will issue guidance about Thanksgiving in the next few days. Utah will increase its contact tracing efforts and testing of younger people don’t normally exhibit symptoms of the virus. This will also include college students and workplace testing for employees under the age of 35. Utah National Guard personnel will help in contact tracing. The governor’s biggest challenge is to free up hospital beds at this point of the outbreak in Utah.
“Our hospitals are full,” Herbert said in the clip. “This threatens patients who rely on hospital care from everything from covid-19 to emergencies like heart attacks, strokes, surgeries and trauma. We must work together to keep infections low until a vaccine is available.”
It will be interesting to watch if Utah can get the coronavirus under control by relying on the use of face masks and social distancing while allowing businesses to continue to operate. The governor’s approach seems reasonable.