Faced with more than 2,000 new daily COVID-19 cases in his state and hospitals at capacity, Utah’s outgoing Gov. Gary Herbert has declared a state of emergency and issued a mandate for all residents to wear masks in public until further notice.
Herbert announced the new restrictions on Sunday night in a video statement, imploring all state residents “to do everything in your power to stop the spread of this disease.”
In addition to mandating mask-wearing, the governor laid out three other crucial elements of his emergency declaration: banning people from hosting social gatherings with individuals other than those living in their households for the next two weeks; significantly expanding the state’s testing operations; and suspending all high school and club sporting events, and extracurricular activities, for the next two weeks, with the exception of playoff and championship games. Herbert said intercollegiate sports are also exempt.
Under the new orders, businesses will be required to make their employees wear masks and encourage patrons to do the same. Those that don’t comply will be subject to fines from the state’s labor commission.
“Masks do not negatively affect our economy, and wearing them is the easiest way to slow the spread of the virus,” said Herbert, who did not seek reelection after serving two terms and will leave office Jan. 4.
Herbert also warned that anyone caught sponsoring or organizing events in violation of his social distancing orders will be prosecuted and could be subjected to fines of up to $10,000 per occurrence.
“We must all remain vigilant until a vaccine is widely available. But we cannot wait upon a vaccine knowing the havoc that this pandemic has wrecked on families, schools and businesses,” Herbert said. “We must do more and we must do it now.”
On Monday, President-elect Joe Biden, a Democrat, echoed Herbert, a Republican, on the necessity of mask-wearing in public as he cautioned that America could face a “dark winter.”
“We could save tens of thousands of lives if everyone would just wear a mask for the next few months. Not Democratic or Republican lives, American lives. Please, I implore you, wear a mask,” said Biden, who also unveiled the members of his coronavirus task force.
Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer also announced on Monday promising initial Phase 3 data for a COVID-19 vaccine it’s developing.
Herbert’s new orders went into effect at 1 p.m. local time on Monday and will remain until at least Nov. 23.
In the past seven days, Utah has averaged 2,213 new positive COVID-19 cases per day and set a record on Friday with 2,987, according to the Utah Department of Health. On Saturday, the state recorded 2,956 new positive cases.
Utah now has more than 130,000 positive cases, and a state record 410 people are currently hospitalized with the virus, the data shows. A total of 658 people in the state have died from the contagion, including nine over the weekend.
Herbert said individuals age 15 to 24 “have not been careful in casual social gatherings and that the highest rates of spread are now occurring among this age group.” He said testing will be expanded to include all university students, high school students who participate in extracurricular activities, high school teachers and people in workplaces who are 35 or younger.
The governor stressed that his new orders should not be interpreted as a “shutdown of our society or our economy.”
“We’re not closing any businesses,” Herbert added.
In an analysis of all 50 states in July, ABC News concluded that 28, plus Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, had issued statewide mask mandates. Since then, that list has added Ohio, Arkansas, Minnesota, Indiana, Wisconsin, Vermont and now Utah.
New daily COVID-19 cases across the United States hit a record 128,000 on Saturday as multiple states in addition to Utah reported the highest number of positive infections since the pandemic began, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center.
The latest data released on Sunday evening offered no signs that the virus is easing up. Sunday marked the fifth straight day new COVID-19 cases surpassed 100,000 in the country, according to the data.