Gov. Herbert says he’ll back local orders requiring face masks be worn in public in Salt County

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, June 24, 2020 (Gephardt Daily) — Gov. Gary Herbert walked a political tightrope Wednesday, imploring Utahns “to do the right thing” and wear face masks in public to reduce COVID-19, while stopping short of ordering them to do so.

Instead, Herbert ceded that responsibility to local leaders, saying that he was a “local control person” and that if local authorities could make the case face masks and other measures were needed to stem the spread of COVID-19, they would have his support.

Herbert’s announcement came just hours after he turned aside requests Tuesday from Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall and Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson to order masks be worn in public across the state.

The governor responded, saying he “strongly supports mask wearing in public when social distancing is not possible because it is a sign of respect for the health and well-being of others,” but he was also “concerned that requiring masks could create divisive enforcement issues at a time when we need to come together of our own accord around a shared concern for one another’s health.”

Herbert also made it clear Tuesday night he was not considering another shutdown, despite the alarming spike in COVID-19 cases across the state.

The governor’s statements raised eyebrows by those who say his administration has been taking a page from Team Trump’s pandemic playbook by distancing themselves from the bad news being delivered by the very experts they’ve enlisted to fight in the war against coronavirus.

That notion was seemingly reinforced Monday, when it came to light that a memo written by state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn three days earlier had warned of dire consequences should the rise in coronavirus cases continue, and urged the governor to consider another shutdown should the trend continue.

Herbert responded by way of Twitter.

“Dr. Dunn’s internal memo raises alarm about the increasing COVID-19 cases in Utah,” the tweet said. “I appreciate her analysis and share many of her concerns. We will work to stem this tide, but I have no plans to shut down Utah’s economy.

“I urge Utahns to protect themselves and their loved ones from the spread of the virus by following our common sense guidelines for social distancing, good hand hygiene and especially the use of face coverings.”

During Wednesday’s news conference, Herbert went to great lengths to explain his administration’s approach to balancing concerns over restarting the economy versus those expressed by public health experts and local leaders.

“We are hopeful we can get people to do the right thing for the right reasons, because they love their neighbors,” Herbert said.

Herbert said Mayor Wilson’s request would be reviewed Thursday by a board which will consider current COVID-19 data.

He said if the data proves sound “we will grant their requests to make it mandatory to wear face masks in Salt Lake County.”

Herbert also said all state-run facilities, including public colleges, administrative buildings and liquor stores, will require use of masks by workers and visitors.

Dr. Angela Dunn’s statement

The news conference began with Wednesday’s COVID-19 numbers read by state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn, speaking from a remote location. Dunn then talked about the June 19 internal memo she sent, which read, in part:

“We are quickly getting to a point where the only viable option to manage spread and deaths will be a complete shutdown. This might be our last chance for course correction. Contact tracing and testing alone will not control this outbreak.”

After the memo became public, Herbert’s office issued the following statement:

“The Governor shares Dr. Angela Dunn’s concern about the increased spread of the virus in our state. Her memo was prepared specifically to help frame key issues for this week’s leadership deliberations about how to address the surge in cases. Dr. Dunn will be a part of those consultations, and her analysis will be front and center in our meetings.”

“Governor Herbert emphasized,  ‘Our plan will only be as successful as the willingness of people to protect themselves and their loved ones from the spread of the virus by following our common sense guidelines for social distancing, good hand hygiene and especially the use of face coverings. As part of the COVID-19 response, the Utah Department of Health routinely provides data analysis and recommendations to state leaders. We speak from a public health point-of-view, and are just one of the perspectives state leaders consider when determining Utah’s path forward.'”

In her news conference statement, Dunn said her memo represented her scientific assessment only, and did not take other factors into account.

“It was written from one perspective, the public health perspective,” she said. “My intention in the memo was not to say we should shut down. No one wants that. My intention was to provide guidance on how we should continue to move the dial in the right direction at the right time.

“We absolutely need to be more vigilant now about social distancing in order to prevent overwhelming the healthcare system.

“You know, I’m really proud to work in a state where I feel encouraged to provide my input and advice, and that leadership will consider it, and weight it alongside the input from other experts in their field. So we as Utahns should feel proud that leadership is willing to  listens to all these opinions and strike the right balance moving forward to protecting the health of individuals and the economy.”

Herbert also shared the news that one of his senior staff members, whose name he did not disclose, had tested positive for COVID-19. Staff members who interacted with the man were being tested, Herbert said, adding that he and Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox were not exposed to the man.

Herbert also said that Utah will remain in the yellow or low-risk phase of COVID-19 guidelines for the next two weeks before a review of data that could change the stage to orange or green, tightening or loosening pandemic-response guidelines.

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Read more of Dunn’s memo below:

19 June 2020


We are in the acceleration phase of the COVID-19 outbreak in Utah. We went yellow on May 15. Our surge in cases started on May 27, 12 days after going yellow. Utahns care about these colors. They change their actions based on them. They are the key messaging tool to the public.

All of our goals are aligned — keep the economy open and prevent deaths/illnesses. We are quickly getting to a point where the only viable option to manage spread and deaths will be a complete shutdown. This might be our last chance for course correction. Contact tracing and testing alone will not control this outbreak.

Today, we reported nearly 600 cases and that’s without a known outbreak of driving transmission.

• It’s over 3.5 times the current rate in Colorado.

• COVID-19 patients in the Utah hospitals have increased from a steady 90 to 150 this month, and this increase is from the cases that were identified over a week ago.

• IHC is reporting they will run out of conventional ICU capacity in some hospitals in July.

• Of the cases, about 8 percent will be hospitalized one to two weeks later and about 1% will die after about three weeks. If trends hold, at the current weekly average of 405 cases/day:

o This means around 213 people will be hospitalized per week

o Of those 213, about 85 will be previously healthy working age people. “Low risk” – taken from their family and work to fight for their lives in an isolated hospital room.

o About 17 of the 213 will die – another 11 will die at home or in nursing homes. On average, per week, and it’s growing at a rate of 25% a week.

Things we can do now to start to decrease cases and keep the economy open:

1. If we do not reach a rolling 7-day average of 200/cases per day by July 1, we need to move the entire state to orange. This will send the message to Utahns that this outbreak continues to be a serious problem, and state leadership is committed to saving lives and preventing a complete economic shutdown.

a. 200 new cases/day can likely be managed by aggressive contact tracing, focused
outbreak investigations and testing, and pointed public messaging.

b. We should start messaging this to the public and businesses now.

c. Put a pause on any jurisdiction lessening restrictions until July 1.

2. Mandate face coverings, either by government or business enforcement.

3. If above isn’t reasonable, we need to be clear with public about why decisions are being made lessening restrictions – economic, not health. Be clear about health risk. Be clear about how these decisions are made and who makes them. This will better equip the public to make informed decisions about how to protect themselves and their health.

Below are the key aspects of our response, followed by a data summary:

1. Contact Tracing
Contact tracing is a key element to controlling an infectious disease outbreak. However, it
becomes less effective as the number of contacts per case increases, and as the public perceives lower risk and does not adhere to quarantine recommendations. Since going to yellow, we have increased our number of contacts/case from approximately 5 to over 20. For contact tracing to be effective as a tool to stopping the spread of COVID-19, it needs to be paired with polices that limit the number of close contacts per person. We are exceeding our capacity to effectively and efficiently conduct contact tracing due to the surge in cases and number of contacts per case.

2. Testing
We need to continue our ability to test everyone who needs a COVID-19 test: close contacts, symptomatic, high risk settings. We must prioritize testing for people who are sick or are part of outbreaks. Speed is critical in identifying these people and baseline testing distracts public health and testing resources.

3. Hospital Utilization
We have heard from the UHA, UofU, and IHC that hospitals are going to exceed their capacity to care for individuals within the next 4-8 weeks. The metrics on DOMO are only part of the hospital capacity. We must consider staffing, ECMO, and beds for severe cases. Focusing on tertiary care hospitals is crucial. Once we run out of beds at tertiary care hospitals on the Wasatch Front, there is no state ability to care for the critically ill. Maintaining the ability to stand up the alternate care facility will be essential as cases continue to increase.

4. Protect those at high risk for severe disease
High risk individuals get COVID-19 from low risk individuals. The higher the number of cases in our state, the more likely high risk individuals will get exposed to COVID-19. We must continue our efforts to specifically protect those at high risk for severe disease, while prioritizing policies and interventions that drive down overall transmission.

5. Protect those at high risk for transmission
We know certain environments are more conducive to COVID-19 spread: crowded, indoors, for a prolonged period of time. We must continue to work with employers in these environments to put procedures in place and engineer the workspace to limit spread. We also need to work with employers to ensure their employees have the ability to quarantine and isolate when needed through paid sick leave and worker protections.

6. Messaging/Communications
The public equates the color-coded phased guidelines with risk of COVID-19 spread. We must be clear that the color equates with the economic restrictions in place. And that the risk of COVID19 spread is higher as the restrictions are lower.


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