CACHE COUNTY – In the midst of an ongoing spike in statewide COVID-19 cases, Cache County’s request to drop to a Green/Minimum restriction level is still on hold, according to Gov. Gary Herbert.
Herbert said the state’s COVID-19 Task Force has received similar requests from several counties, but said that none of those requests would be considered for a week at least.
That delay, he explained, was prompted by a Thursday announcement by epidemiologist Angela Dunn that Utah had recorded a record 911 new cases of COVID-19 in the previous 24 hours, making Utah’s rolling seven-day average headcount 661 cases.
The governor called that news alarming, but still resisted taking any action at state level in response to the changing pandemic situation. Instead, he called upon local leaders to make decisions that might be appropriate for their respective communities and for individuals who seem inclined to defy state precautionary guidelines to recognize the potential consequences of their intransigence.
Under questioning during the state task force’s weekly briefing, Herbert acknowledged that all possible responses to the worsening circumstances “were on the table,” including selective tightening COVID-19 restriction levels and a statewide mask mandate. He said those possible actions will be discussed by state officials in coming days.
Imposing a statewide mask mandate would be a major political concession for Herbert and Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, who heads the state’s COVID-19 Task Force and is the GOP’s candidate to succeed Herbert in the governor’s office.
On July 6, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Peterson challenged Herbert and Cox to join the leaders of 20 other states by imposing a statewide mask mandate.
“The worst part of the pandemic both in terms of public health and economic harm is still ahead of us,” Peterson predicted. “If our public servants do not lead, we are risking an economic and health catastrophe.”
Since then, Herbert has shrugged off other appeals for a mask mandate, saying that those kinds of decisions should be made at local level. Cox has declined to even discuss the issue.
State officials say that the epicenter of the recent upsurge in COVID-19 cases is located in Utah County and that many of the individuals testing positive there are in the 15- to 24-year age group.
Here in the Bear River Health District, public health officials reported 36 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, with 33 in Cache County and 3 in Box Elder County.
Cache County officials requested state authorization to downgrade the local COVID-19 restriction level in late August, when daily cases counts were often in single digits. As is the case in Utah County, health officials here attribute the recent increase in COVID-19 cases to the delayed impact of thousands of young people returning to schools and higher education.
“This is not good news,” Herbert acknowledged, “but the sky isn’t falling … We are taking this situation very seriously and we want all Utahns to take it serious as well.”