State set to begin major push to convince Utahns to wear masks

Utah Capitol 12

Look for a “major” public service announcement campaign coming this week aimed at getting Utahns to wear masks and keep social distancing, says Utah Senate President Stuart Adams.

It’s the $1 million campaign approved by the Legislature in a June special session. And it’s filming and distribution has taken longer than Adams believed it would, and “it’s driving me crazy.”

In any case, it comes as Adams, R-Layton, and House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, met last week with GOP Gov. Gary Herbert to talk about the state’s next steps as the number of coronavirus cases has spiked after the state began opening in May.

Herbert, apparently on his own — without Adams or Wilson agreeing — set an Aug. 1 deadline for the seven-day-rolling number of new cases at around 500.

If Utah doesn’t reach that number, then Herbert has hinted he may take the serious step of mandating mask-wearing in public for much of Utah, at least for the highly-populated counties along the Wasatch Front.

With Herbert’s OK, Salt Lake County has had a face mask mandate for several weeks. And it appears the number of new cases in the state’s largest county is dropping.

Utah, as a whole, is one of the few states that is not mandating mask-wearing, and some very conservative states, like Alabama and Arkansas, have done so.

Adams, who said he is a mask-wearing manic, still believes it is better to convince/educate folks to wear masks and do proper social distancing, rather than order such.

He and Wilson sent a letter to Herbert several weeks ago opposing mandating mask-wearing.

“You can order people to do things,” Adams told on Monday. But you will get better compliance if they chose to do those things voluntarily.

And the PSA, which will include local university football coaches and other luminaries wearing masks (Adams says he will wear a “red” mask for the University of Utah), should hopefully get people “on board.”

Adams said his own individual observations at local grocery stores and other outings tells him that folks in Davis County are starting to comply. It’s unscientific, he admits, but he sees few people in stores and out in public who are not wearing facial coverings. Adams had a routine blood test and it showed that he had coronavirus antibodies, so maybe he could not wear a mask in public — although he’s doing so — because he can’t get someone sick, and he likely wouldn’t get sick himself. He believes he got the virus at the end of the 2020 Legislature in mid-March but didn’t have serious symptoms.

“We’re going to get there. We going to beat this thing. We’re going to drive it” into the ground with proper care, he adds.

The next real challenge — which Adams says will be in a mask-wearing follow-up PSA — is to get health-challenged people back into seeing their doctors.

“People are dying at home from heart attacks because they won’t see their doctors, they are afraid of getting the virus.” But that is just wrong-headed, says Adams.

People with serious conditions need to pay attention to those conditions, he adds.

It’s unclear how exactly what the Legislature may do along the lines of further coronavirus-fighting actions in an upcoming Aug. 20 special session, said Adams, now just a month away.

Those discussions will come between Adams, Wilson and Herbert in the weeks ahead, said the president.

But it will be an important session, with lots to talk about and actions coming.

Adams said over the weekend he did some spit-balling calculations, and he believes Utah, with its very low death rates from the coronavirus — “maybe the lowest in the world” when compared to countries with reliable death-rate data — is doing very well in that area.

But Adams says Utah officials are right to be “very concerned” with the growing number of virus cases climbing each day — an average of 612 new cases over a rolling seven-day period as of Monday.

“We have to stop the spread of this (coronavirus) disease in Utah. We have to.”