Utah Gov. Gary Herbert announced a statewide mask mandate Sunday night citing record COVID numbers and full hospitals.
Utah’s cases numbers, deaths and hospitalizations have shot up over the past week. The state reported 2,386 new cases on Sunday, bringing the seven-day total to 16,111. The seven-day percent of positive tests is at 20.6% and 46 people died of the virus this past week.
“We can not afford to debate this issue any longer,” Herbert said following his announcement of the mask mandate. “Individual freedom is certainly important, and it is our rule of law that protects that freedom. Laws are put into place to protect all of us…and that’s why we now have a mask mandate.”
The move marks a new step in the governor’s pandemic response, during which has repeatedly resisted issuing a state-wide mandate, instead preferring to leave the issue up to individual towns and cities. Residents in some Utah locales, including Provo, have openly protested mask mandates.
The mask mandate will be extended “for the foreseeable future” and states that individuals must wear a mask indoors and outdoors anytime they are within 6 feet of someone they do not live with. Businesses who do not comply with the mandate will face fines.
The mask mandate is accompanied by new restrictions and an expanded testing program that will include weekly testing of college students, high school students who participate in extra-curricular activities, individuals in the workplace under the age of 35 and high school teachers.
This applies to all BYU students who live on campus or attend an in-person class. The state’s COVID website says, “Testing is encouraged to begin as soon as possible” but must be implemented by the beginning of the next semester. The University of Utah announced on Saturday all students will need to be tested by Thanksgiving.
Herbert said this approach is backed by the state’s data regarding the spread of the virus, which shows individuals aged 15-24 have not been careful in casual social gatherings and now have the highest rates of spread.
The morning after Herbert’s announcement, BYU’s Student Academic Associations Office sent out an email announcing that all in-person student academic association (SAA) events for the rest of the semester are canceled. Any new requests for in-person events will be denied, but Zoom events are still allowed.
For the next two weeks, Herbert has issued the following restrictions, which go into effect at 1 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 9.
- Individuals cannot organize or participate in casual social gatherings with individuals they do not live with, including extended family and friends.
- All sports, clubs and school extracurriculars — minus intercollegiate sports and high school sports playoffs and championships — are postponed.
The mandates do not close any businesses, apply to churches or require schools to go virtual, but they do require restaurants to only serve individuals from the same household and bars are required to close at 10 p.m.
“Let me be clear,” Herbert said. “(This) is not a shutdown or our society or our economy…Utah is open for business.”
He added that although Utahns have been safe in institutional settings like offices, stores and churches, data shows casual social gatherings are the weak link in the state’s fight against the virus.
Individuals who organize gatherings that don’t require mask-wearing and social distancing will face up to $10,000 in fines. In the past, multiple large gatherings have been held in Utah County, particularly by college-aged individuals.
Herbert encouraged Utahns to stay at home over the next two weeks whenever possible, get their flu shots and remain vigilant until a vaccine is widely available.
“There is no legislation or executive order that can mandate civility, respect and basic consideration for others. This is about so much more than just mandates. This is about personal responsibly,” Herbert said. “It is time for the divisiveness to end and for all of us as Utahns to unite in making whatever sacrifices are necessary to help our neighbor, and to bring back healing in our state.”