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Cox meets with Utah legislature about COVID-19 surge

Posted at 5:21 PM, Sep 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-01 23:21:58-04

SALT LAKE CITY — Governor Spencer Cox met privately with members of the Utah State Legislature to discuss what to do about the alarming surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

On Wednesday afternoon, he met with House and Senate Democrats and then House Republicans.

"There was kind of wide-ranging, brainstorming and discussions, but I wouldn’t say there was an official proposal by any means," House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, told FOX 13.

The governor will meet Thursday with the Senate GOP caucus. Those in the meetings described them as "informational," where the governor's office and representatives from Intermountain Healthcare presented the latest situation report.

"We have a crisis in the hospitals. Just don’t have a heart attack, that’s all I can tell you. Because there might not be any room for you," Senate Minority Leader Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, told FOX 13 following her meeting with Gov. Cox and Lt. Governor Deidre Henderson.

The governor sought their input as COVID-19 cases continue to climb with the highly contagious delta variant. He told reporters on Tuesday that it might be time for the legislature to reconsider some of the laws they passed (that he signed) ending some COVID restrictions. Hospitals are over-capacity and the Utah Department of Health is projecting an alarming spike of as many as 39,000 new children's COVID cases in September alone, as children under 12 are not eligible for the vaccine.

Gov. Cox, who said the legislature has no appetite for any statewide mandates, has recently floated the idea of a mask mandate for schools if an outbreak reaches a certain threshold as a way to slow virus spread and prevent it from reaching other unvaccinated people.

Speaker Wilson said lawmakers came prepared with some of their own ideas.

"Things like booster shots, how we could incentivize people to get vaccines," he said. "There was conversation about what we can do to support out healthcare community from a morale standpoint, but getting more people working in that space, how do we create more ICU capacity."

But House and Senate Democrats told FOX 13 the governor did not propose any policy ideas to them, but did signal he'd like their help to persuade Republicans on Capitol Hill.

"I'm hoping my Republican colleagues will find a way to work with us and the governor and find ways to protect our communities," said Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City.

But some lawmakers believe that what they passed is sufficient and is working. They point out that the law allows for a local health department to issue a mask order, but a county commission or county council can act as a check on it.

"I think the process is working pretty well right now," Senate Majority Leader Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, told FOX 13. "You can see where there are some school districts right now that are doing it and it’s certainly interesting. We need to have quite frankly, data is important especially with COVID. We’ve got some schools requiring masks, many aren’t and we’d like to see some results."

Grand County's commission imposed a mask requirement in K-6 schools. The Salt Lake County Council rejected one proposed by its health department. Summit County will institute one if cases in schools hit above 2%. Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall imposed one for schools in the capital city using emergency powers.

"I think the majority caucus is open to that happening, as long as it happens at a local level," Speaker Wilson said. "With the informed involvement of a local health department and it makes sense in those communities to the elected officials there. The legislature's very supportive of some of the districts that are choosing to do that because it makes sense for them and I think you'll probably see more districts choose to follow what Summit County is doing."