Utah officials announce new pandemic strategy, mask mandates
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah is implementing a new strategy to fight the coronavirus pandemic as the number of confirmed cases and hospitalizations continued to surge, state officials announced Tuesday.
The state will move away from its color-coded health system and instead place counties under restrictions based on their COVID-19 transmission rates, said Gov. Gary Herbert. Each county will be listed as high, moderate or low level transmission areas.
Six counties — Salt Lake, Utah, Cache, Garfield, Juab and Wasatch — have been designated as high transmission areas. Masks will be required in all indoor settings in these counties, and social gatherings must be limited to 10 people or fewer, said Rich Saunders, acting director of the Utah Department of Health.
In moderate transmission areas, gatherings will be limited to 25 or fewer unless masks are worn, said Saunders. Gatherings will be limited to 50 or fewer in low transmission areas if people don’t wear masks.
As a two-week “circuit breaker,” masks must be worn in all moderate transmission counties until Oct. 29, said Saunders.
Utah has been in the midst of a record-setting surge in reported coronavirus cases over the past month. The state ranks fifth in the country for newly confirmed infections per capita, according to data from Johns Hopkins. Utah’s health department reported a seven-day average of 1,182 new positive test per day on Tuesday, just below Saturday’s record of 1,189.
“We are having one of the worst outbreaks in the country, and this is unacceptable,” Herbert said.
There have been over 87,000 reported virus cases in Utah and 522 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 new 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.