SALT LAKE CITY – In response to a skyrocketing number of coronavirus cases in Utah, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Peterson has called on Gov. Gary Herbert to remove Peterson’s political rival — Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox – from his appointment as head of the state’s COVID-19 Task Force.
“Instead of acting in his traditional constitutional role,” Peterson said in a campaign statement released Friday, “the lieutenant governor has crossed out of his lane and usurped the function of the Department of Health.
“Since then, we have seen the state’s COVID response hijacked by unproven and ineffective treatments, defective cell phone software, testing delays and insufficient protective equipment for vulnerable frontline workers.”
Herbert appointed Cox to head the state task force in the early days of the pandemic in mid-March. The state’s early efforts to flatten the curve of the infection rate with the closing of schools, restaurants and businesses were initially successful and Herbert still boasts that Utah has one the nation’s lowest mortality rates and a resurgence economy.
But Utah’s infection rate is by no means flat.
On Friday, state officials reported a record 1,117 new cases of COVID-19 in the previous 24 hours. That marked the first time that Utah has seen more than a 1,000 positive test results in a single day, making the state’s rolling seven-day average for new cases jump to 726.
During a televised press briefing Thursday, Herbert called a lower daily count of 911 COVID-19 cases and a rolling seven-day average of 661 cases “alarming.” He attributed the recent spike in coronavirus cases to careless students returning to schools and higher education in Utah County and to other misguided individuals who seem intent on defying common sense health precautions.
Peterson suggested that the governor should also look for causes within his own office.
“Lt. Gov. Cox is a good person,” Peterson acknowledged. “But, with respect, his expertise has been in the area of elections and lobbyists. He should stick to that and let our medical professionals and scientists do their jobs.”
The Peterson campaign predicted that Utah’s COVID-19 trend is on pace to match or exceed the places in the United States that were hardest hit by the pandemic – New York City and the Navajo Nation.
“Hundreds of Utahns will die alone and in pain, while our economy continues to struggle, if we do not immediately begin following the advice of scientific experts,” Peterson argued.
On July 6, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate challenged Herbert and Cox to join the leaders of 20 other states by imposing a statewide mask mandate.
Since then, Herbert has shrugged off other appeals for a mask mandate, saying that those kinds of decisions should be made at local levels. Cox has declined to even discuss the issue.
On Thursday, however, Herbert said that a statewide mask mandate and other restrictive measures “would be on the table” when state leaders discuss the worsening pandemic in coming days.