Utah Health Officials Issue New Mask Requirements And COVID-19 Restrictions
Starting Thursday, Utah will shift from a state of emergency to a public health emergency. Gov. Gary Herbert announced the change Tuesday. Herbert, alongside state health officials, also announced the state’s new COVID-19 tracking system which will help determine restriction levels for counties.
“What's really encouraging here is that we are using data, which is an objective measure, to drive where counties are,” State Epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn said.
The state rolled out its COVID-19 transmission index, which places counties in either the high, moderate or low transmission level. That will be determined based on their case rate, seven-day positivity rate and intensive care unit utilization. Health officials said they will analyze and update restrictions weekly.
“It’s really time for a new game plan,” Herbert said. “This guidance system is based on a calculated amount of infection and transmission that happens in our communities and provides Utahns with concrete actions to help stem that spread.”
However, regardless of the level a county is placed in, masks are required at all public gatherings, like sporting events, weddings and movie theaters. In the high level, masks must be worn wherever physical distancing isn’t available, like at a store or in a restaurant.
“Wearing masks when you're around other individuals or groups outside your household works,” said Rich Saunders, interim executive director of the Utah Department of Health. “I know that masks are controversial. Some people make political statements by either wearing them or not wearing them. But if you take the politics out and you look at the science, masks just work.”
The changes are in response to a spike in cases that has continued for more than a month. State health officials announced 987 new cases Tuesday. The state’s seven-day average of new daily cases is 1,182 — nearly three times more than it was in early September when the spike began.
Both Davis County and the Weber-Morgan health district set new records Tuesday for their average number of new daily cases over the past week.
Six counties will start in the high transmission level: Cache, Garfield, Juab, Salt Lake, Utah and Wasatch.
Fifteen counties will begin in the moderate level: Box Elder, Carbon, Davis, Grand, Iron, Millard, Morgan, Sanpete, San Juan, Sevier, Summit, Tooele, Uinta, Washington and Weber.
And eight counties will be in the low transmission level: Beaver, Daggett, Duchesne, Emery, Kane, Piute, Rich and Wayne.
Health officials also pointed to the need to control the spread at what they called “casual social gatherings” — everyday situations where people are spending time with family and friends in places like their homes or at parks. Saunders said those gatherings have been a problematic incubation area and point of transmission. He said it’s also been a popular point of viral spread as people tend to let their guard down.
“The virus knows no boundaries,” Saunders said. “Because we let down our guard in these settings, it's a popular point of viral spread. The virus doesn't care how much we love to be around each other and how much fun we want to have.”
Under the high transmission guidelines, those gatherings will be limited to 10 or fewer people, under moderate 25 or fewer and under low 50 or fewer.
However, the new guidelines do not supersede any mask mandate that counties or localities have already put in place. They are also still required in schools and in state-run buildings, like the Capitol and liquor stores.
Herbert said that enforcement of the new restrictions is left up to local jurisdictions.