SALT LAKE CITY – Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, has joined the ranks of Utah officials pushing back on growing criticism of the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“What will help our economy and our businesses most now,” Henderson said, “is something that has become far too politicized and that is just wearing a stinking mask in public.
“To me, that’s the number one thing that we should all do. It’s so simple and it should not be controversial in any way, shape or form. But, unfortunately, it has been.“
After being sidelined on the campaign trail by her own COVID-19 diagnosis, Henderson’s comments came during a Friday candidate forum sponsored by the Cache Valley Chamber of Commerce. That event featured not only gubernatorial candidates Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and Democratic challenger Chris Peterson but also their running mates, Henderson and Karina Brown of Nibley respectively.
As one of a growing number of COVID-19 patients still suffering long-term after-affects of the coronavirus infection, Henderson had ample justification for her occasionally emphatic comments. She appeared during the forum held via Zoom technology wearing an oxygen-supply device.
The Democratic candidates did not dispute Henderson’s argument. They merely repeated their call that Gov. Gary Herbert should emphasize the importance of face coverings by issuing a statewide mask mandate.
Cox did not specifically address the question of a mask mandate during the Cache Valley forum. Instead, the lieutenant governor tried to deflect some of the criticism of the state’s coronavirus response toward health professionals and federal officials.
“We had held many tabletop (pandemic) exercises with the best experts in the county before the coronavirus hit,” Cox explained. “In that process, the one thing that I learned about the experts is that they were all wrong by an order of magnitude. They had given us a worst-case scenario; (the coronavirus) ended up being 100 times worse than what they predicted.
“We desperately need a federal government that is more responsive to the states,” Cox added. “What the federal government is doing on the vaccine side is really incredible and is to be lauded. But they completely dropped the ball on the testing side … Every time we get access to new testing equipment and innovations, the federal government has taken that away from us and deployed it elsewhere.”
The controversy that Henderson mentioned is the political fallout of Herbert’s continuing reluctance to impose more restrictive statewide precautions in the midst of a huge spike in coronavirus inspections. On Thursday, state officials announced a record-breaking 1,501 new coronavirus cases, the highest one-day total in the seven months since the outbreak.
That peak of new cases brought the state’s rolling seven-day average to 1,114, with 237 Utah now hospitalized with COVID-19.
Here in the Bear River Health District, the most recent headcount of new cases stood at 46 on Friday, but earlier in the week 85 new cases were reported on Wednesday, the highest number since the COVID-19 outbreak four months ago at the JBS meat packing plant in Hyrum.
Peterson originally challenged Cox, who headed the state’s COVID-19 task force, to support his call of a mask mandate in early July. Since then, other public figures have joined that call, including Erin Mendenhall, the mayor of Salt Lake City.
During his last two weekly Covid-19 press conferences, Herbert has continued to reject those calls, insisting that Utahns shouldn’t need a state order to “do the right thing.”
Peterson and Cox will compete to replace the outgoing Herbert in the general election balloting on Nov. 3.