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It’s Still Not Clear How Effective Utah’s Recent COVID-19 Restrictions Were

A photo of Gov. Gary Herbert speaking at a press conference.
Steve Griffin
Deseret News
Although a ban on social gatherings have expired, Gov. Gary Herbert is urging Utahns to celebrate Thanksgiving only with people they live with.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert’s two week “pause” on extracurricular activities and certain social gatherings ended Monday. He also extended a statewide mask mandate through Dec. 8.

But it’s not clear yet if those measures have had an impact.

There has been a slight, three day plateau in new COVID-19 cases. But, three days doesn’t make a trend. And, it’s unclear if this is just a pre-holiday testing slump, like the state saw before the 4th of July and Labor Day, according to Lindsay Keegan, an assistant epidemiology research professor at the University of Utah.

“So the question is: Are people just already traveling and just not going to get tested because they're in transit, or is there an actual signal in this very modest reduction?” Keegan said.

Two week-long restrictions can have an impact, she said, because they can interrupt multiple cycles of people spreading the virus. However, measures that are difficult to enforce, like a social gathering ban or mask mandate, probably don’t have a huge effect on people’s behavior, she added.

“Maybe there were some people who this did impact,” Keegan said. “But to some extent, the people who are going to take it seriously probably haven't been mixing with a lot of people outside of their household this whole time.”

More enforceable measures, she said, like closing indoor dining or bars, would have more of an impact.

But Herbert has been reluctant to close businesses or services again in the face of this months-long surge in cases.

“We’ve been trying to strive for that happy, optimal middle part where we in fact protect the health of the people and yet still have a healthy economy at the same time,” he said during a press conference Monday.

Although the ban on social gatherings has expired, Herbert is urging Utahns to celebrate Thanksgiving only with the people they live with, because the risk of contracting COVID-19 is just as high as it was two weeks ago.

Sonja Hutson is a politics and government reporter at KUER.
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