SALT LAKE COUNTY, Utah, June 25, 2020 (Gephardt Daily) — Gov. Gary Herbert has approved the mandatory use of face coverings in Salt Lake and Summit counties.
The governor’s decision was prompted by requests from the leadership of both counties as the number of COVID-19 cases spikes to record levels across the state.
According to Utah Department of Health, there were a record 590 new cases of COVID-19 confirmed in the state since Wednesday, with one additional fatality.
Medical experts say at the current rate of infection, Utah could overwhelm its healthcare system within a matter of a couple weeks.
The death toll from the coronavirus pandemic in Utah stands at 164.
Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson and Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall had both requested that the governor take action on the face mask issue, originally calling on him to order the use of face coverings statewide.
Herbert initially responded by saying he was reluctant to issue such a potentially divisive order at a time when Utahns need to work together. He later said he would be willing to support local leaders if they could show data proving the need for ordering face coverings.
Mayor Wilson spoke one-on-one with Bill Gephardt shortly after the decision was announced Friday night. She said it was not a decision that was taken lightly.
“I worry about the political divide,” Wilson said. “There are good reasons to feel differently about issues in our community. We often have political battles — but this is about health and about safety, and I wouldn’t have taken this action if we hadn’t had such a dramatic rise in cases of COVID-19 in our community.
“We’re like everyone else. We just wanted to relax and enjoy our summer, but it’s just not reality. It’s not the world we live in,” she said.
The order to wear masks goes into effect at midnight Friday, June 26. It encompasses all cities and towns within Salt Lake County as well as Summit County.
Violating the order is technically a class B misdemeanor, but Wilson said enforcement efforts would focus on education versus fines or punishment.
To watch Bill’s Thursday night interviews with both Mayor Wilson and Salt Lake County Health Director Gary Edwards click on the player above.