In a video posted to Twitter late on Sunday — which Utah residents were alerted to watch via an emergency cellphone alert — Herbert also declared a two-week state of emergency and announced a spate of other restrictions aimed to curb infections, which the governor noted are “growing at an alarming rate.”
“Our hospitals are full,” Herbert said in the clip. “This threatens patients who rely on hospital care from everything from covid-19 to emergencies like heart attacks, strokes, surgeries and trauma. We must work together to keep infections low until a vaccine is available.”
The announcement comes as Utah’s rolling seven-day average for new daily coronavirus cases reached a new high for the fifth consecutive day on Sunday and grew by nearly 40 percent in the past week, according to data tracked by The Washington Post. The state reported a record number of 437 virus-related hospitalizations on Sunday. In all, Utah has reported 132,621 cases and 659 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
Coronavirus cases are surging in the United States, with several other states like Minnesota, Wisconsin, Arkansas, the Dakotas and Alaska experiencing record surges in hospitalizations and newly reported infections. Health officials, including the country’s leading infectious-disease expert, Anthony S. Fauci, have warned that hospitals could soon be overwhelmed.
“It’s much more about some of the states like Utah, Nevada, South Dakota, North Dakota, where … they never had a pretty good reserve of intensive care beds and things like that. I hope they’ll be okay, but it’s still a risk that, as you get more surging, they’re going to run out of capacity,” Fauci told The Post in late October.
But even as cases have risen dramatically, some Americans have refused to wear masks — and some GOP governors have declined to issue orders making face coverings mandatory, following the lead of President Trump, who has often refused to wear masks in public and has questioned their efficacy.
In Utah, mask mandates have also been political. In late June, Herbert told the Salt Lake Tribune he “strongly” supported mask-wearing in public in places where socially distancing was not possible and as a “sign of respect for the health and well-being of others.” But Herbert added he was “concerned that requiring masks could create divisive enforcement issues.”
Back then in late June, masks when in public were encouraged by the Utah Department of Health, the Tribune reported, but wearing them was not a legal requirement.
Nearly six months later, as cases continue to surge and intensive care units reach full capacity, the state will require all Utahns to wear masks in public and within six feet of anyone outside their household, according to the news release issued by the governor’s office and the state Department of Health. Businesses’ employees and patrons must also wear face coverings, the governor said in the almost nine-minute video posted to Twitter. Businesses that fail to follow the indefinite mask mandate will be subject to fines issued by the Utah Labor Commission, he added.
“We cannot afford to debate this issue any longer,” he continued in the clip. “Individual freedom is certainly important, and it is our rule of law that protects that freedom.”
Additionally, for the next two weeks, no one can host or attend social gatherings except for those involving a person’s immediate family. Anyone who organizes a social event may face a fine of up to $10,000 per incident, he added.
The new rules also come a week after authorities busted thousands of Utahns, many of them without a mask, at a Halloween party in Utah County, as reported by The Post.
All after-school activities, with the exception of the high school playoff and championship games, as well as intercollegiate sports, will be also postponed for the next two weeks.
The restrictions are effective as of Monday and are expected to end Nov. 23.
“We must all remain vigilant until a vaccine is widely available,” Herbert said. “But we cannot wait upon a vaccine, knowing the havoc that this pandemic has wreaked on families, schools and businesses. We must do more and we must do it now.”