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Utah Reports Record Number Of New COVID-19 Cases For The Third Time In 8 Days

Gov. Gary Herbert at a press conference.
PBS Utah Video Screengrab
Gov. Gary Herbert answered questions from reporters Thursday during his monthly news conference with PBS Utah.

Utah health officials reported 1,198 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday, a new daily record for the state. It marks the third time in the past week the state has set a new record for daily cases.

Over the past week, there have been an average of 916 new cases each day, which is the highest week-long average the state has seen throughout the pandemic. That’s up more than 250 cases from this time last week.

“We need to change our behaviors,” Gov. Gary Herbert said during a news conference Thursday. “We control our own destiny. And if we do [have] proper protocols, we can slow the spread and have some great success when it comes to protecting people's health.”

The recent spike is being driven by Utah County. The seven day rate of increase there is 2.6% compared to the state’s overall rate of increase of 1.45%. As of Wednesday night, Provo and Orem, where Herbert said the outbreak is concentrated, moved back into the orange, moderate level of pandemic restrictions, from the yellow, low risk level.

The Utah County Commission has also issued a mask mandate.

Herbert warned during his Thursday press conference that if Provo and Orem residents continue to ignore public health guidelines, more restrictions could be on the way, including moving all of Utah County back into the orange phase.

“Of course, that's the possibility,” he said. “That is the threat, I guess, that is out there. We're trying to do this incrementally. We don't want to overreact. We don't want to underreact.”

He reiterated his apprehension to issue a statewide mask mandate, pointing to rural areas that have reported very few cases, like Piute and Wayne counties. When asked about a mask mandate for more densely populated Wasatch Front counties, Herbert said Salt Lake and Utah counties now have one. Davis and Weber counties, however, do not.

In addition to warning Utah County residents about potential new restrictions if they don’t follow public health guidelines, Herbert also appealed to Utahns to make a worthy sacrifice, like Americans did during World War II.

“It’s a little disappointing that we have people saying, ‘Oh, having to wear a mask in crowded conditions, having to forgo having the junior prom celebration or fans in the football games — that's too much of a sacrifice to ask of this generation,’” he said. “I hope that's not the case. That would be disappointing on many levels if it was so.”

The Utah County spike has beenlinked to college parties, but state health officials have also reported 104 outbreaks in K-12 schools. Herbert said the state may turn some guidelines into requirements, and is talking with K-12 education stakeholders about that possibility.

“If there's areas there that need to be modified in the plan to make it more consistent, enforceable, that's under discussion right now,” he said. “This has definitely been a kind of learning as you go experience.”

Herbert also addressed skepticism of a potential vaccine during the news conference. He said he would get a U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved vaccine for COVID-19 when one became available, but understood people’s hesitancy to get a vaccine.

Sonja Hutson is a politics and government reporter at KUER.
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