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Politics & Government

500 days in, Gov. Cox sees a lot going right for Utah despite the drought and COVID

Governor's Monthly News Conference, Spencer Cox-13, May 2022
Trent Nelson
/
The Salt Lake Tribune, pool
Gov. Spencer Cox speaks at his monthly news conference in Salt Lake City on Thursday, May 19, 2022.

Gov. Spencer Cox reached the 500-day mark for his first term in office Thursday. During his monthly news conference, he reflected on his administration’s work so far and addressed other issues, including water, COVID-19 and more.

Milestones

For Cox, it’s been an “interesting time” to be governor.

“In some ways, it feels like five days, and in other ways, it feels like 5,000 days,” he said.

He mentioned a handful of his administration’s successes, like a strong economy and increased diversity among members of his cabinet and staff.

At the beginning of his term, Cox made a commitment to focus more efforts on addressing the needs of rural Utah communities. He said they’ve moved nearly 200 state government jobs to rural parts of the state, and they’re working with private businesses to do the same.

“We don't need to incentivize every job along the Wasatch Front anymore,” he said. “We have 2% unemployment. That doesn't make sense. But this does give us an opportunity for those businesses that are looking to expand in rural Utah in big ways.”

Still, he’s less than halfway through his term. Cox said there’s more work to be done, like taking on the state’s affordable housing crisis, wildfire danger and helping kids with learning.

“But on day 500, I'm very proud of our track record of accountability and transparency,” he said. “I'm more committed than ever to finding solutions, building bridges and creating one Utah.”

Water

Right now, 99% of the state is in severe or extreme drought. Last month, Cox made an emergency declaration to help state and local leaders respond to the dry conditions.

Earlier this year, the Legislature also passed measures to increase water conservation, many of which are just now taking effect. Cox said they’re waiting to see what impact those have, but one thing is for sure — there needs to be an even bigger investment in conservation efforts.

“With all of these programs, what we've done is we've put into place vehicles to deliver water conservation,” he said. “The rate at which we're able to deliver on that conservation will depend on the funding that is received.”

Lawmakers have recognized the desperate state of affairs, especially with the Great Salt Lake. This week, they looked into studying whether it was possible to pipe water in from the Pacific Ocean to cover the drying lakebed.

It’s important to look at “all potential options” to save the lake and address the drought, the governor said. But this option, he figured, would cost a lot of money and might run into some engineering challenges.

“Certainly, that's a pipe dream of sorts,” he said. “Literally and figuratively. If something like that were to ever happen, we're talking many, many years into the future. So our focus is on what we can do now. And that is a real focus on conservation.”

COVID-19

Cox recently tested positive for COVID-19 and wore a mask as he addressed reporters. He considered himself part of a spike in cases happening at the state level as well as nationally and internationally.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have also noted Summit County has reached a medium level of transmission, while the rest of the state is low — for the moment.

Cox noted that state leaders and health officials are watching the spread of cases carefully, but there’s “nothing that’s causing them great worry at this time.”

He encouraged people to get their vaccine boosters, look into antiviral treatments if they do test positive and wear a mask “if you're worried about the transmission.”

Economy

As Utah and the rest of the country struggles with a shortage of baby formula, Cox wished the state could have a bigger role in addressing the problem. Right now, they’re trying to get the message out about what parents can do to feed their babies.

Additionally, he said they’re working with retailers to get the product where it’s needed most.

“The best that we can do is to reach out to our partners across the state, find out where there is formula and where there isn't formula, and try to move formula around to places where it doesn't exist right now,” he said. “That's very difficult. But that's something that we're working on.”

He said he expects the shortage to ease up in the coming weeks.

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