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Utah's governor threatens more restrictions as COVID-19 cases surge to record level

Governor COVID briefing
Posted at 2:49 PM, Sep 17, 2020

SALT LAKE CITY — Governor Gary Herbert may implement new restrictions on the state after Utah recorded 911 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday.

"Our highest single day case count for new cases," said Dr. Angela Dunn, the state epidemiologist.

Utah's Department of Health reported a new outbreak in Utah County involving 15-24 year-olds that is now spreading to all age categories. She warned that it could mean more hospitalizations and deaths.

Utah County makes up 40% of the new cases.

"We need to take immediate action to prevent unnecessary illness and deaths in our state. I am especially concerned with what we are seeing in Utah County," Dr. Dunn said.

Gov. Herbert said the spike in cases caused him "alarm." He referenced recent underground dance parties centered around college campuses that local health officials have said is contributing to the spike.

"I’m alarmed by people who ignore health guidelines and those who are promoting social gatherings, almost in defiance of the recommendations by our best minds of science and medicine who say social distancing is an important aspect of how we slow the spread, and how we maintain our economy to stay open," the governor told reporters at a news conference.

He thanked Utahns who have followed health guidelines of physical distancing (staying at least 6-feet from others), wearing face masks and good hygiene. But the governor challenged those who didn't take COVID-19 seriously to do so now.

But Gov. Herbert did not announce any new restrictions. He will meet with his advisors and COVID-19 Unified Command in the coming days and may seek additional restrictions. He told FOX 13 that could include a statewide mask mandate or sliding parts of the state back to an "orange" restriction level on the state's color-coded scale.

"We dial it up, but we can also dial it down and dialing it down is on the table," Gov. Herbert warned. "And probably more at the forefront than we’ve had in the past. Again, I don’t want to over-react, I don’t want to under-react. Mandate of masks, dialing back the color code on more restrictions, those are on the table for discussion."

Gov. Herbert did call on local leaders, particularly the Utah County Commission, to step up and health restrictions to get a handle on COVID-19 cases. He said he believed Utah Valley University and Brigham Young University were doing a good job adhering to health guidelines on campus, but added "my concern is with the students" who were defiant about it.

"I remember feeling young and invincible, too," the governor said, adding that while they may not be impacted by COVID-19 as much, they do spread it to others whose lives can be jeopardized.

Gov. Herbert said he would pause any requests to lower COVID-19 restriction levels that had been made by counties. Some counties have been asking to move to a "green" restriction level.

The governor also said plans were being made to expand testing for novel coronavirus in the state to anyone who might want one, regardless of whether they had symptoms. He did not make a formal announcement, saying the state still needed to work out details including funding from the legislature.

Thursday's report of 911 cases exceeds the 875 cases reported on July 9. Cases in the state have risen sharply over the past week.

So far, 735,138 people in Utah have been tested for COVID-19.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, 3,401 people in Utah have required hospitalization for the disease. Of those, 120 remain hospitalized. A total of 437 people in Utah have died of COVID-19.

50,108 of Utah's cases are considered "recovered." A case with a diagnosis date of more than three weeks ago, who has not passed away, is considered recovered.