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Utah governor increases pandemic restrictions in 2 cities

September 22, 2020 GMT
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Utah Gov. Gary Herbert walks through the Capitol rotunda to a COVID-19 briefing Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
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Utah Gov. Gary Herbert walks through the Capitol rotunda to a COVID-19 briefing Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Gov. Gary Herbert will increase pandemic restrictions in two Utah cities. But he stopped short of implementing any mask mandates as COVID-19 cases continue to surge in the state, state officials announced Tuesday.

Herbert is imposing new restrictions in the cities of Provo and Orem that will limit social gatherings to 20 people starting Wednesday. The state health department is granting one exception to the new rules that will allow team sports, but without spectators.

The cities are in Utah County, where cases have grown by 81% in the last week, said Dr. Angela Dunn, the state epidemiologist. The county accounted for 42% of the state’s cases despite having only 20% of state’s population.

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Local leaders are considering a countywide mask mandate, but the state has not set a deadline for how quickly they must make that decision, Herbert said. The county’s sole face-covering mandate is in the city of Provo.

Many of the new cases are being driven by college-age students in Utah County, home to Brigham Young University and Utah Valley University. The two colleges issued a joint statement Tuesday warning students that they may implement “more dramatic action” or even close campuses if case numbers do not improve over the next two weeks.

Statewide, the rolling 7-day average for positive tests is 857 per day, up from 522 per day last week. The rolling 7-day average for percent of positive laboratory tests increased from 10.6% last week to 13.9%. The number of people hospitalized because of COVID-19 has also increased from 115 last week to 161.

The governor said he’s trying to use “a scalpel approach instead of a shotgun approach.” But he warned that he may consider increasing restrictions across Utah County if new case rates continue to rise.

“We’re hoping to do it in a way that cuts out the cancer, but doesn’t kill the patient,” he said.

Herbert, a Republican, has urged residents to wear masks for months but has stopped short of ever implementing a statewide mask mandate. He has instead allowed counties to decide if they needed bans.

There have been 65,000 reported virus cases in Utah, and 443 people have died, according to state data. The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

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Sophia Eppolito is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.