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Gov. Spencer Cox's Comment On Masks Appear To Walk A Political Tightrope

A photo of Spencer Cox talking at a podium.
Trent Nelson
The Salt Lake Tribune
At a press conference Tuesday, Gov. Spencer Cox both encouraged people to wear masks, while also questioning their efficacy.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox cast doubt on the effectiveness of masks in the fight against COVID-19 Tuesday, while also encouraging people to wear them.

During his first COVID press conference in nearly a month, Cox said, “Masks are not as effective as most of the pro-mask crowd are arguing.”

Dr. Emily Spivak, an infectious disease doctor at the University of Utah, said the science on masks is clear.

“To the scientific and health care community, there's no debate that masks work on an individual [and] on a community level at slowing the transmission of COVID-19,” Spivak said. “I was honestly surprised to hear that one from him because I don't think I've heard that type of rhetoric from him before.”

She said Cox’s statement was demoralizing to the healthcare and public health community.

“It really feels like we've been abandoned,” Spivak said, “not only in discounting our recommendations and our pleas for help to slow COVID and to protect people, but also that no one's even paying attention to the death and destruction that is now happening.”

But University of Utah political scientist Phillip Singer said Cox’s comments probably won’t impact many people’s behavior, because most people’s opinions on masks are already set.

“The politics around mask wearing are so ingrained in individuals already that those individuals that view masks as an infringement on freedom or personal rights are going to be able to point to that and say, ‘Gov. Cox sides with me,’” Singer said. “And you're going to have people who view masks as a safe way to kind of try to contain or mitigate the pandemic who are just going to be kind of angered by it and upset at the comment.”

Singer said right now, the governor is trying to walk a political tightrope.

“Gov. Cox is cognizant of that tension between working to reduce hospitalizations while at the same time not angering his base, as well as the elected officials that he's going to need to work with,” he said.

Cox is set to meet with House and Senate leadership this week to discuss possible responses to the surge in COVID cases.

Sonja Hutson is a politics and government reporter at KUER.
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