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Utah governor issues statewide mask mandate amid coronavirus surge

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert wears a mask during a news conference in Salt Lake City in April.
(Rick Bowmer / Associated Press)

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert has declared a state of emergency and ordered a statewide mask mandate in an attempt to stem a surge in coronavirus hospitalizations that is testing the state’s hospital capacity.

Late Sunday, Herbert and the Utah Department of Health issued executive and public health orders requiring residents to wear face coverings in public, at work and when they are within six feet of people who don’t live in their households.

Several of the state’s largest counties already require masks, but Herbert, a Republican, had resisted extending the rule to the entire state despite a two-month surge in coronavirus cases.

Herbert said Sunday night that the time to debate masks had passed and insisted that his orders wouldn’t shut down the economy.

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The new Utah rules also call for a two-week pause on school extracurricular activities, including athletic events — with the exception of high school championship games and intercollegiate athletic events as long as testing and social distancing guidelines are adhered to. Herbert ordered a limit on “casual social gatherings” to household members only.

Those orders go into effect 1 p.m. local time Monday and are set to last until Nov. 23.

Pfizer says early data on its coronavirus vaccine candidate suggest that the shots may be 90% effective at preventing COVID-19.

By Jan. 1, all Utah students at public and private universities who attend at least one class per week in person must be tested weekly for COVID-19.

State officials sent out an emergency alert to residents on their phones Sunday to alert them to Herbert’s televised address outlining the orders.

Earlier Sunday, Utah health authorities announced a new high in the number of coronavirus hospitalizations and 2,386 new confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Utah’s seven-day average of newly confirmed daily cases has reached a record-breaking 2,290.

The swift unveiling of the coronavirus advisory board signals the urgency of the issue and its importance in propelling Biden to the White House.

In the last two weeks, Utah’s positivity average — the percentage of coronavirus tests that are positive — has increased from 18.5% to 20.6%, according to state data. At least 659 state residents have died of the coronavirus and more than 132,000 have been infected.

Utah also will ramp up its contact tracing efforts and its testing of younger individuals who usually show no symptoms of the coronavirus, including the college testing, testing for students engaged in extracurricular activities and, eventually, workplace testing for people 35 and younger, Herbert’s office said. Utah National Guard personnel will help in contact tracing, it said.

“To make a real difference in slowing the spread of COVID-19 and turning around the dire situation in our hospitals, we all need to do more,” the governor said. “This is a sacrifice for all of us. But as we slow the spread it will make all the difference for our overworked healthcare workers, who desperately need our help.”


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