20200611 Herbert Presser

In the face of a rising number of coronavirus cases in Utah, Gov. Gary Herbert said Wednesday he would not consider any requests from local governments to loosen COVID-19 related restrictions for two weeks. Herbert also said he would mandate the wearing of face masks in some state facilities.

Herbert, during his weekly press briefing, repeatedly stressed that research shows wearing a mask can help slow down the spread of the virus, but he would not take the next step mandating the face coverings statewide. 

“People don’t need the heavy hand of government to change behavior. Some do, but most don’t,” said Herbert. “If it’s going to be mandatory, it should come from the local governments, which I feel is the better policy approach.”

“It’s not hard, it’s not expensive to wear a mask,” he continued.

Herbert did indicate he was leaning toward granting a request from Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson to require mask-wearing in public and that decision would likely come on Thursday. In April, the Utah Legislature passed a bill prohibiting local leaders from imposing more restrictive measures to fight the coronavirus unless they receive permission from state leaders.

Even though he dismissed the idea of a statewide order for masks, Herbert did announce an executive order to require face coverings in state facilities under the control of the executive branch, which includes DABC stores and higher education.

Herbert also put the brakes on the loosening of any coronavirus-related restrictions for the next two weeks, meaning any part of the state that is hoping to move from a yellow-level of guidance to the less restrictive green will have to wait.

“We’ll take a look at the data and see how we do. The yellow designation right now is pretty wide open, and there are not many things you cannot do under yellow,” he said.

Herbert also revealed that a member of his senior staff had tested positive for the novel coronavirus. That staffer is now isolated as are other members of the office that came in contact with them.

Herbert also pushed back against the story, first reported by UtahPolicy.com, that the Coronavirus Community Task Force was being sidelined and moved to an “as needed” basis.

“We have stood up a Level 1 unified command to respond to this. We meet on a daily basis and review the data and the recommendations that come in from all quarters. Our state emergency operations have been activated to the highest level,” said Herbert, explaining the state’s response to the virus has not been throttled back. Herbert’s office declined to speak on the record when contacted by UtahPolicy.com for the original story.