SALT LAKE CITY — As Utah recorded a record-breaking 867 positive cases of COVID-19, Governor Gary Herbert once again urged people to wear face coverings and threatened a mandate if there wasn't voluntary compliance.
"From the beginning of the pandemic, I have appreciated the advice from our leaders in the healthcare industry. They are on the front lines of fighting the pandemic and understand as well as anyone the terrible consequences of COVID-19. Today we reported a disturbing new record of cases," he said in a statement to FOX 13. "As I said yesterday, if we cannot quickly bring the number of cases down by the voluntary use of masks and physical distancing we will consider stronger measures, including a mask mandate, as Texas and other states have implemented. As leaders from our churches, hospitals, and our businesses have reiterated, all we ask is wear a mask."
The governor's statement came less than 24 hours after he announced he would not issue a statewide mandate of face coverings, but warned one was possible if COVID-19 cases increased. The governor did issue a mandate for all K-12 schools and on Friday he extended a mandate for all state-run facilities including Capitol Hill, liquor stores and driver's license offices.
Asked by FOX 13 at his news conference on Thursday what his metric was for implementing mandates or even restrictions, the governor said they would analyze the data.
"One of the things I should mention is we’re going to assemble here in the next few days, sometime in the next week, the stakeholders, the number crunchers, the scientists to make sure we understand the interpretation of the data," he said.
The governor then said about 800 cases on average was a threshold he believed would be cause for alarm -- and potential mandates or restrictions.
"As we get to 800, it’s like the wings falling off the plane. That does not give us the headroom we probably would want to have. Certainly would not be wise to have us floating that closely to the edge of the cliff," he said.
On Friday, representatives from each of Utah's health care organizations held a joint news conference to plead for a statewide face covering mandate. On Capitol Hill, House Democrats urged the governor to do it.
Republican leaders were also alarmed by the surge in COVID-19 cases.
"That’s concerning. That said, I don’t know that certainly I would recommend any changes until there’s an average, right? You don’t want to do it off of one data point. But if you see accelerated case counts that’s concerning," said Senate Majority Whip Dan Hemmert, R-Orem, who co-chairs the Utah State Legislature's Public Health and Economic Emergency Commission.
The commission recommended Utah move to a lower-risk "green" status, which has been paused as cases increase. Sen. Hemmert continued to urge Utahns to voluntarily adopt face coverings as a way to slow the spread of the virus. He acknowledged they would have to evaluate further restrictions -- including a possible face covering mandate. But Sen. Hemmert told FOX 13 he still opposed one.
"I’m still on that side of government shouldn’t cross this line. It’s an ideological line that maybe a lot of people don’t share, but I do," he said. "Should people wear masks? Yes. can we do better education, outreach, better information on why to wear masks? I think so. Can we make it more socially acceptable? I think so."
So far, Salt Lake, Summit and Grand counties have been granted permission to mandate face coverings. So has the town of Springdale, outside Zion National Park.