Herbert mandates mask wearing statewide

For at least two weeks all Utahns must wear masks when out in public, and all businesses must require mask wearing by employees and visitors, all in an attempt to stem the spread of COVID-19, Gov. Gary Herbert announced Sunday night.

Other measures will be taken, including no gathering of folks outside of their immediate family.

Businesses who violate the mask mandate order can be fined by the state Labor Commission.

And any person or group that tries to organize “illegal” gatherings can be fined up to $10,000 per incident.

“Utah is not closed,” said Herbert in his emergency broadcast carried by local media outlets and online at 9:30 p.m. Sunday night.

No businesses will be shuttered, residents can still shop at retail outlets, and dine in or carry-out at restaurants, all churches can still meet within the guidelines.

And the measures are just for two weeks. Then Herbert and public health officials will review what is happening.

Schools are not closed.

And high school sports that are going into playoffs can have games held. Likewise, other inter-school games can be held, under guidelines.

But the state’s hospitals are becoming overwhelmed, the governor said. And steps must be taken now.

“The time for debate is over,” he said. And requiring all persons to wear masks statewide while out in public is not an issue of liberty, he added. It is no different than having red lights for orderly traffic or other public health orders and laws.

In addition, COVID-19 testing will greatly expand over these next two weeks, with the emphasis on college students and high school athletes and others involved in extra-curricular activities. While athletic games may go forward, as may some high school clubs and such, no non-school-related groups/clubs will stop meeting.

And there will be no social gathering in secondary schools for at least two weeks.

Herbert, and by extension Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, the head of the state’s coronavirus fighting efforts, have been criticized by a variety of individuals and groups — mainly from the political right — for not opening up the state sooner.

At the same time, Herbert et al. have been criticized from the left and public health groups for not taking stricter actions in an effort to stop what’s become almost daily record increases in the virus spread and hospitalizations.

Herbert said it is the hope that these “emergency” actions over the next two weeks will see a decrease in the spread of the virus, especially among those 15-24 years old.

He said it appears that the virus is not being spread very much in public places, rather the increases are coming through “social” interactions — especially among those who are not wearing masks or practicing proper social distancing in groups.

The Utah National Guard will be mobilized where appropriate to help enforce the new mandates and help out in the increased testing of various groups/athletes and those in the workforce who are under 35 years old.

It is time for all Utahns to step up, Herbert said, as they have during natural disasters, to help their neighbors and themselves by increasing their precautions against the virus.