Utah Issues Statewide Mask Mandate, Other Restrictions

Carolyn Crist

November 10, 2020

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert declared a 2-week state of emergency on Sunday evening and outlined several restrictions to slow the spread of the coronavirus, including a statewide mandate to wear masks in public.

The mask mandate will be in place until further notice, he said.

"The number of infections in our state is growing at an alarming rate," Herbert said in a video posted on Twitter.

Utah residents were prompted to watch the video through an emergency cell phone alert, according to The Washington Post. The state's 7-day average for new daily COVID-19 cases broke records for the fifth day in a row on Sunday and was 40% higher than the previous week.

"Lives are at risk as COVID-19 cases surge and we report record hospitalizations and new deaths day after day," Herbert said. "Our hospitals are full."

Herbert issued the state of emergency to protect the capacity of intensive care units and address overcrowding at hospitals, not only for COVID-19 emergencies but also for heart attacks, strokes, surgeries, and trauma cases.

As part of the mask mandate, Herbert said, businesses must require employees to wear masks and request their customers to wear masks. Businesses that don't post signs about masks and don't follow the mandate will be fined.

"Masks do not negatively affect our economy and wearing them is the easiest way to slow the spread of the virus," he said. "Experts tell us that masks do not cause a shortage of oxygen to your brain or cause disease."

Individual freedom is important, he added, but laws are in place to protect everyone, such as traffic lights, speed limits, and seatbelts.

"We cannot afford to debate this issue any longer," he said.

Herbert also urged caution in social gatherings and said Utahns can't host gatherings in their homes for the next 2 weeks. In coming days, state officials will share recommendations about how to gather safely for Thanksgiving and the holiday season. Groups that organize events or gatherings will be fined up to $10,000 per incident, Herbert said.

After-school activities and sports-related activities will also be postponed for 2 weeks, with the exception of high school playoffs and championship games and intercollegiate sports. However, club sports, city-sponsored sports, and intramural sports will be postponed for now. He added that students shouldn't gather in social groups for the next 2 weeks and that the highest rates of virus transmission are among the 15-24 age group.

The state will also expand testing for those who have COVID-19 symptoms and will launch a targeted testing program for those who don't have symptoms, including weekly tests among university students and some high school students.

"We must all remain vigilant until a vaccine is widely available," Herbert said. "But we cannot wait upon a vaccine, knowing the havoc that this pandemic has wrecked on families, schools, and businesses. We must do more, and we must do it now."