Gov. Herbert talks about racial inequality, special session, COVID-19 spike

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert. File photo: News conference screen shot

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, June 11, 2020 (Gephardt Daily) — Gov. Gary Herbert spoke Thursday about racial inequities, a special Legislative Session to adjust the state budget after the dramatic economic downturn, and Utah’s spike in the number of COVID-19 cases.

Herbert first addressed recent protest against police brutality that has claimed the lives of a disproportionate number of people of color, including George Floyd, a black man killed by a police officer in Minneapolis who pinned Floyd’s neck to the roadway, cutting off his air supply for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, killing him.

Floyd’s death was one of many suffered by black and brown people at the hands of law enforcement, but his slow and cruel death was caught on video and widely shared.

Utahn’s response

The protest in Salt Lake City on Saturday, May 30 started out peaceful, then a few members of the crowd flipped and torched a police cruiser, and vandalized the downtown and state Capitol  area, and looted a few stores. Subsequent protests have been more uniformly peaceful, although emotions continue to run high.

Photo: Gephardt Daily/Patrick Benedict

“Let me talk about something that’s really been on the top of everyone’s mind with the protests, the rioting, the violence that’s been occurring across our country, and Utah’s not been immune to that,” Herbert said.

“I think we were all horrified to see the killing of George Floyd, an African American, while he was subdued by those who have been sworn — part of their job and obligation is to preserve and protect. And we see that something went terribly wrong, certainly in that instance. Such abuse of power is never acceptable.”

Herbert said settlers came to Utah to escape discrimination.

“Utah, uniquely, was founded as a place of refuge for those seeking to escape from persecution and from those who had hatred for them. We can do better to live up to that ideal our state was founded upon and our country was founded upon by our actions, our interactions with those that we associate with, and in the policies we create.”

Photo: Patrick Benedict/Gephardt Daily

Herbert said he has met with the Martin Luther King Commission and the Multicultural Commission, and heard words that make him believe policy and perhaps legislative change is key to racial equality.

Herbert also confirmed that choke holds will be banned from use by state police, and he urged local law enforcement agencies to review their policies with an eye toward ensuring people’s safety.

He also said creating new equality policies or legislation and funding them is a good first step, but the real change will happen in Utah homes.

Photo: Gephardt Daily/Patrick Benedict

“We need to be doing things to change hearts and minds,” Herbert said. “That comes from families, that comes from parents, that comes from our faith-based organizations, our private organizations,  from all of us doing our own part, to reflect upon our inner self about the changes we need to make to help, not to hinder.”

Special session

Also to be addressed at the special session is budget shortfalls caused by the unexpected pandemic and the need for workers and shoppers to stay home, to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Thousands in Utah lost their jobs, and, without customers, businesses went under or seriously downsized. Besides harming workers and businesses, that will also result in far less tax revenue for the state, and the need to cut or shift budgetary items in order to “end the year in the black,” Herbert said.

Returning to something resembling the pre-pandemic normal may not be an option anytime soon, Herbert said.

“Nobody wants it to happen quicker to me,” Herbert said, of an economic recovery.

COVID-19 numbers

Herbert said with the continuing increase in coronavirus cases, Utah won’t be advancing from low (yellow) risk status to the so-called new normal (green) this week.

That decision will be reevaluated each week, using current numbers. Herbert did not take a stand on Cache County official’s vote to “go green” regardless of data. Herbert did note that the Bear River Health Department would need to review and approve the request before the change could be made.

Dr. Angela Dunn, Utah State epidemiologist, said the spike in new COVID-19 cases in the recent days corresponded with Memorial Day, and numbers began to shift right after that holiday.

“Our daily cases have been in the 200 and 300 range since Memorial Day with a few spikes in the 4 (hundred) and 500 range. In the week leading up to Memorial Day, the percent of positive tests was hovering around the 4 to 4.5%. In the two weeks since, we’ve seen the trend increase to 7% for a weekly average.

“There are some parts of the state being hit harder than others,” Dunn said. “There’s localized outbreaks, and hotspots, but by and large, we are seeing an increase in cases throughout the state, from Logan to St. George.”

Some rural counties in the state have been spared major infections, most likely, Dunn said, “because physical distancing is naturally occurring within these communities. For everyone, it is essential that we all modify our behaviors to prevent the spread of COVID-19, especially to those who are at high risk for severe disease.”

Dunn said for now, we need to learn to live with the virus, “and that means we all need to physically distance, wear face coverings when physically distancing is not possible, stay home when we’re ill, and continue to practice good hand hygiene.”

Dunn also said guidelines have been changed to allow for some key cultural events, which will let venues reopen.

And she warned that when Utah does transition into the green/new normal phase, following guidelines will still be important.

“The green guideline places emphasis on taking personal responsibility through individual action to limit the spread of COVID-19, however face coverings are going to continued to be emphasized throughout the phased guidelines.”

1 COMMENT

  1. Then why, if they are having a significant increase in positive tests, are they allowing a concert/vendor booth event Cedar City to take place? It has already manifested that the lack of social distancing during Memorial Day celebrations have increased the numbers and having a gathering such as this concert is downright dangerous and completely foolish in the current situation.

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