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Utah Health Order Creates Statewide Mask Mandate, Restricts Social Gatherings To Curb COVID-19 Surge

Utah Gov Gary Herbert
Governor's Office
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert announced a new State of Emergency, mask mandate and other restrictions on Sunday in response to a surge in COVID-19 cases in Utah.

Gov. Gary Herbert announced Sunday a new State of Emergency in response to rising COVID-19 cases throughout the state.

In recent weeks, Utah has continued to break records for daily COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths related to the virus. On Friday, health officials announced a daily record with 17 new deaths, and over the weekend, the state logged an additional 10 deaths and more than 5,300 new cases.

As a result, Herbert and the Utah Department of Health have issued executive and public health orders effective 1 p.m. Monday to address overcrowding at hospitals in the state.

Renee Bright

Gatherings will be limited to households until Nov. 23 and a statewide mask mandate is in effect “for the foreseeable future.” The mask mandate could carry fines for businesses that fail to require employees to wear masks, promote customers wearing masks or post signage that explains the mask policy.

Organizers of public gatherings that don’t follow the required precautions could be prosecuted and fined up to $10,000.

Herbert said he has been meeting with health officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

Throughout the pandemic, the governor has stressed the importance of individual responsibility when it comes to wearing masks, social distancing and taking precautions. But to make a dent in the spike in cases, he said Utahns need to do even more.

“That’s why we are restricting casual social gatherings for the next two weeks,” Herbert said. “This means many of us may have to cancel plans with extended family and friends. 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 orders also limit athletic and other extracurricular activities for K-12 students. However, intercollegiate athletics and high school championship practices and games can continue, as long as they follow requirements for testing and crowd size.

In the past two weeks, 199 teachers and 1,406 students have tested positive for the virus.

State Superintendent Sydnee Dickson said a lot of that is due to events and gatherings outside the classroom.

“In the case of activities and athletics, we want to curb the spread so that students and teachers aren’t bringing that back into school,” Dickson said. “But when they’re in school they can be very focused on the right things and not be worried all the time about the spread of the virus.”

The state will also increase its contact tracing and testing capabilities, especially for people who don’t have COVID-19 symptoms, with the help of the National Guard.

Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, who was recently elected as Utah’s next governor, said state leaders have learned a lot about responding to the coronavirus since the pandemic started.

“As leaders, we know testing is a critical piece of our response,” Cox said. “While we ask Utahns to do some heavy lifting, we’re also significantly ramping up targeted testing in age groups that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tell us are frequently asymptomatic.”

Herbert also addressed people who have refused to wear masks, saying there’s no evidence they cause oxygen shortages or negatively affect the economy.

“We cannot afford to debate this issue any longer,” he said. “Individual freedom is certainly important, and it is our rule of law that protects that freedom. Laws are put in place to protect all of us. That's why we have traffic lights and speed limits and seatbelts, and that's why we now have a mask mandate.”

Herbert said the state’s health experts agree fully shutting down businesses isn’t necessary to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Emily Means is a government and politics reporter at KUER.
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