Provo lawmakers respond to governor’s COVID-19 concerns

Gov. Spencer Cox speaks during a news conference Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021, in Salt Lake City. Local lawmakers met later in the week with Cox to discuss approaches to the continuing pandemic. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox met this week with state representatives and senators to discuss the state of COVID-19 in Utah in light of rising cases.

The meetings came on the heels of a news conference the governor held on Tuesday, Aug. 31 concerning the same topic.

After Wednesday’s House caucus meeting with Cox, Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, said he would like to see public schools in crisis take a more serious look at what is called “cohorting” or “bubbles,” where a group of 25 or 30 students in the same class interact with only each other and not any other students in the school. This system would limit interactions between students to a small group and ideally contain the spread of the virus.

“I’m glad that we had the discussion,” said Thurston, whose district includes many students who live south of BYU campus. “I think it is always helpful to discuss. I don’t think we came up with any great solutions in the meeting, but I do think we have some solutions and so I think there is progress.” 

While measures taken will likely not affect many members of the BYU community, Rep. Marsha Judkins, R-Provo, still invites everyone to be healthy. “Take vitamin C, eat well, get enough sleep, and get vaccinated,” she said.

Judkins said she is not in favor of a vaccine mandate, but she does encourage people to look at the data, do their research and then make their decision regarding vaccination.

According to a news release from House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, representatives listened at the Sept. 1 meeting as the governor presented data and shared his concerns about limited hospital capacity and a shortage of healthcare personnel.

Since June 1, the number of currently hospitalized COVID-19 patients has increased by 342% and the number of patients currently being cared for in ICUs has increased by 330%. “The big concern is not the space in the hospitals, but the number of workers,” Judkins said. 

The governor stressed that many healthcare workers have left their jobs since the beginning of the pandemic, leaving hospitals overwhelmed with the recent rise in COVID-19 cases. Judkins also noted that cutbacks in healthcare personnel were made about three years ago, even before the pandemic began.

Another major topic discussed in the meetings was the growing number of positive COVID-19 cases among school-aged children. Wilson’s news release states that while the governor and other legislators do not intend to enforce a statewide mask mandate, established policies empower local health departments and county governments to take necessary measures according to their needs. 

“Those measures could include policies specific to individual schools, ‘Test to Stay’ or mask mandates,” Wilson said in the news release.

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