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Herbert: ‘Not really a benefit’ for mask mandates in rural counties



SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Gov. Gary Herbert says a statewide mask mandate makes little sense for 14 rural Utah counties that have low infection rates and remain in the “green” stage for the fewest amount of regulations to ward off coronavirus.

That insistence to avoid the blanket mandate comes even as the governor said the state would be reporting 1,198 new cases Thursday — the highest single daily increase to date.

Herbert, in his monthly exchange on PBS with reporters, said Orem and Provo have appropriately moved to a mask mandate and Salt Lake County remains under the edict.

“We see that this as a needed effort on all our parts to slow this virus down, especially in Utah County,” he said. “We have a serious problem. It is not fictional; it is real.”

At the same time, the governor clarified the meaning behind Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox’s comments in a gubernatorial debate in which Cox said he “has no choice but to agree with the actions of the governor,” regarding a statewide mask order.

“Certainly he is free to differ from me, but what he is doing is following the science that is coming from our unified command. … Spencer Cox is following that guidance as he should be that will give us the best outcomes.”

Herbert noted that even as New York has been celebrated as a state that is keeping coronavirus numbers in check, Utah is faring much better, logging one of the lowest mortality rates of 0.7% and reporting 14 deaths per 100,000 people compared to 170 deaths per 100,000 people in New York.

The governor also said he spoke with education group leaders on Wednesday on how to best wrangle the coronavirus pandemic as it relates to keeping teachers and schoolchildren safe.

Multiple high schools have moved to online learning or split schedules after meeting state and local health department thresholds of 15 COVID-19 cases.

Some districts have instituted standards based on the size of their student population.

Herbert said “proportionality” should factor into a school’s decision to shift its learning format.

Canyons School District, as an example, moved to a 1% or 2% infection rate in its population — which is closer to 23 COVID-19 cases or 46 cases, respectively.

When it comes to teens hosting homecoming parties, empty football fields and masks, the governor urged parents to teach their children about sacrifice.

He recalled the sacrifices made by young soldiers in World War II, by women rising up to fill their slots in the workplace, Victory Gardens, food rationing and more.

“It is a little disappointing that we have people today saying that (coronavirus restrictions) are too much of a sacrifice. A little bit of pain now will solve a lot of pain later.”

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