SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert has ordered students and teachers to wear face masks when schools reopen next month. The mandate was given during a press conference at the Utah State Capitol Thursday afternoon.
Herbert said the decision was made after consulting with parents and teachers, discussing how to reopen school systems and get students back in classrooms. The closure of schools in March has been a hardship on families.
“So to that end,” said Herbert, “I am announcing that we are mandating that all students, faculty, staff and visitors to our K-12 schools throughout this state, our 41 School Districts and Charter Schools, will wear a mask in the buildings and on busses. This applies to school districts that are even in counties that are green currently. We are going to use an abundance of caution and be proactive in saying that we want to make sure that our schools are a safe environment for our children and for those who attend to our children.”
The order came as the state has seen a surge in COVID-19 cases, prompting several organizations to petition the governor to issue a statewide mandate. Wednesday the state broke the record for new cases in a single day when 722 cases were reported.
Herbert said the state is at a crossroads and the infection rate, currently at 9.9 percent, has recently doubled. He warned the face mask mandate could be expanded under the state constitution if citizens don’t do their part.
“We need to do better. I am going to challenge all of us to help do what we need to do to get our average case rate below 500 by August 1.”
That date is also the deadline for school districts to submit their proposals to the Utah State Board of Education, about how they will reconvene classes. The proposals will include how students will be able to be taught, while also being given time for lunch, breaks or recesses.
Herbert admitted the state did well obeying restrictions during the first three months of the pandemic. However, many became complacent when the state started lifting restrictions, shifting the color threat level that gave a false sense of safety.
“What I think people heard when we got to yellow is ‘low risk,’ things are back to almost normal. We don’t have to take the same precautions that we have done for these past three months. With summer attractions, family gatherings, the holiday season, we have probably dropped our guard a little bit and really done some things in a social atmosphere that we maybe should have not.”
Health officials report the number of virus cases are increasing particularly among citizens between the ages of 15-44. Although that may have kept hospitalizations lower for now, the state’s health care systems still run the risk of being overwhelmed when the virus spreads to older people.
Herbert concluded by saying the coronavirus needs to remain a top focus for the state. He said our ability to slow the spread of the virus will help keep the state’s economy recovering.
“I would just encourage the people of Utah to show your love, your respect, your concern for your fellow man, by wearing a mask. It is not a hard thing to do. It is probably the least inconvenient thing that we could ask you to do on such a difficult situation. It is certainly cost effective and the most effective way to help stop and slow the coronavirus. So, let’s all pull together by wearing the mask.”
An initiative was previously launched to mail face masks to any citizens needing them, called “A Mask for Every Utahn.” The project provides one mask to each resident. Masks can be ordered for no cost at coronavirus.utah.gov/mask/.