SALT LAKE CITY — Governor Spencer Cox called for Utahns to show kindness in the face of COVID-19 restrictions being lifted and heated protests against pandemic health orders.
At his weekly news conference on the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the governor addressed ongoing protests over masks in schools. However, he reiterated that he will not lift the K-12 mask mandate.
"We will be finishing out the school year and then those will go away," the governor said.
Earlier this week, Utah met the metrics to terminate public health orders under the bill nicknamed the "COVID-19 endgame." It ended restrictions on physical distancing and gathering sizes. Private businesses and some local governments can still mandate masks in their facilities.
"More than anything it is now really about personal responsibility. People need to exercise caution, especially those that are not vaccinated or who are at high-risk," Gov. Cox said.
Utah is seeing declining cases of COVID-19, due in part to a large number of vaccinated people. As of Thursday, 56% of all eligible people in Utah have received at least one dose of the vaccine, state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn said.
"Having 12-15 year-olds get vaccinated will really cause our cases to just plummet," Dr. Dunn said, referencing plans to open the COVID-19 vaccine to teenagers. "This is the most important next step we can do as a state to end this pandemic."
On Friday, the governor said, Utah will have more than one million people fully vaccinated. The state announced that 87% of Utahns 65 and older have received at least one dose of the vaccine now and 76% of that population are fully vaccinated.
"Our efforts for a long time seem to be paying off," Lt. Governor Deidre Henderson said.
The state will start to move away from mass vaccination sites to smaller, mobile clinics to bring the COVID-19 vaccine directly to people. So far, over 200 requests have come in from community groups to host mobile clinics, representing 27,000 doses of vaccine.
"We are making progress, but we still have work to do," Lt. Gov. Henderson said.
Referencing anti-mask protests that have increased in frequency — including one that disrupted a Granite School Board meeting — Gov. Cox called for Utahns to "show some empathy, some kindness, show some grace."
"It's been remarkable during this pandemic. We've seen kids act like adults and unfortunately, there's been a few cases where we've seen adults act like kids. That's unfortunate," he told reporters. "People can embarrass themselves... but by and large, Utahns have been really, really good through this pandemic."
The governor sported a T-shirt that said "I heart Dr. Dunn," paying tribute to state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn, who is leaving Utah's Department of Health to head the Salt Lake County Health Department. He said it was a shame that most Utahns only got to know her through the pandemic.
"She's simply here to help us keep the public safe and she's done that at every turn at much sacrifice to her and to her family," he said. "I just want her to know how grateful we are for everything she has done over the past year. We have been so fortunate to have her leadership, her guidance."
Said Lt. Gov. Henderson: "She has saved lives."