Herbert again pleads with Utahns to wear masks to slow spread of coronavirus

20200722 Herbert Presser

Not a lot of news coming out of Gov. Gary Herbert’s Wednesday coronavirus news conference, except that, once again, Utahns need to wear masks and social distance — and that a national news report about Utah’s coronavirus battles was a bit off base.

The Pro Publica report published locally by UtahPolicy.com was inaccurate, said Herbert, in that the state has not sacrificed citizens’ health for the sake of the economy. State plans on opening up the economy are “evolving” as more is learned about the virus’s spread, and that most Utahns care more about the success of the local economy than they do about catching the virus themselves, said Herbert.

Polls show it is about “60-40 percent” in favor of opening the economy as opposed to major health concerns, said Herbert.

And the state’s top Health Department officer, Dr. Joseph Miner has not purposely been kept out of the decision-making loop (as the story indicated), rather because of his own health problems Miner has not attended some in-person meetings where critical virus-fighting decisions were made, the governor said of the online investigative report.

Miner “is a key player” in the state’s coronavirus battle, said Herbert. “It’s not accurate to say he has not been involved,” as the report indicates.

Herbert also said his top aides didn’t make public last a White House coronavirus memo (also reported locally by UtahPolicy), which was critical of where Utah stands now in fighting the virus because that document simply repeated “data points” concerning Utah that was actually generated and made public by Herbert’s own virus-fighting working groups — although admittedly in a different context.

“It was our data. It came from us,” the governor said about the White House document that Herbert did not speak about in his last week’s coronavirus virtual update.

“I don’t have a problem with making it public.” But then Herbert mildly criticized the White House’s coronavirus actions/statements, often made by GOP President Donald Trump himself. “In some cases (the White House) has sent uncertain signals” concerning the virus.

“What I do trust is our own people” — the medical and health care and business Utahns who are advising Herbert et al. on daily and weekly basis.

Saying he’s not happy with the daily rise in coronavirus cases — which appear to be plateauing across the state — Herbert said Utah’s death rates are the lowest in the country and its unemployment rate is the second-lowest in the country.

This shows, said the governor, that what Utah is doing is working, “although we must do better; and we will.”

He declined to say that he would mandate mask-wearing in most of Utah if the state’s seven-day rolling averages of new virus cases doesn’t hit 500 by the Aug. 1 deadline Herbert has imposed.

As of Wednesday, said state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn, that rolling average was 627 new cases.

She also said while Salt Lake County virus cases are dropping, that fact can’t be definitively attributed to the county’s mandatory mask-wearing order. The order likely is part of the success, but other factors, like lower gatherings of people in public, or many county businesses requiring masks to enter, could play a part, as well.

Herbert said he supports private businesses requiring that all entering wear masks are likely going to help drive down new cases AND get suspicious anti-mask-wearing folks to see the light and start wearing masks voluntarily.

In response to a reporter’s question, Herbert said the Legislature’s coronavirus’ commission is not a “toothless tiger.” That both the governor’s own virus advisory groups, he has several, as well as the Legislature’s commission — criticized in the Pro Publica’s article –, are valuable sources of suggestions.

But Herbert added that he’s getting all kinds of virus-fighting suggestions, including from regular citizens speaking to him as he shops for vegetables at his local grocery store — something he does about every weekend.

As reported several times by UtahPolicy.com’s Managing Editor Bryan Schott, the state’s virus-tracing application built by Twenty, while troubled, is still working, said Herbert. And, as reported by Schott, Twenty is now working with a for-free ap suggested by the father-son Semnani organization “trying to meld” the two technologies together.

In any case, Dunn said hands-on virus contacting tracing is going better. Two hundred new trackers have been hired by the state. In addition, across the various local health departments, another 200 have been hired to track down virus cases.

Within 24 hours of a person being tested positive, that person is contacted by a tracer and efforts are being made to both isolate that person but also find others who may have come into contact with the newly infected person.