Utah governor recommends wearing facemasks in stores as COVID-19 cases spike

Gov. Gary Herbert removes his face mask to speak more clearly during the daily COVID-19 media briefing at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, April 8, 2020 (Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune)

SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert reiterated his Stay Safe Stay Home directive through the end of the month as health officials reported one of the biggest jumps in COVID-19 cases during the past 24-hours. The announcement came during Thursday’s press conference and included a request for residents to begin wearing face masks when entering retail businesses.

Gov. Herbert expressed appreciation for retailers in the state, who are trying to keep stores clean and limit social distancing. He said wearing a protective face mask will help limit community spread of the virus.

“So I’m asking Utahans to show their support by wearing a personal protective mask or face covering whenever you enter a retail store,” pleaded Gov. Herbert. “I know my wife has made a couple quite attractive face masks out of cloth that she sewed up, so people can have them. They aren’t that hard to get to. A little ingenuity, and you can have a face mask which will make people feel good around you, and certainly help the employees at our retail establishments.”

The press conference occurred as the Utah Department of Health announced 1976 cases within the state, an increase of 130 cases since Wednesday afternoon. Those cases have resulted in 168 hospitalizations and 13 deaths. 38,373 people have now been tested.

Earlier, Utah epidemiologist Angela Dunn said the recommendation to wear face masks is primarily to prevent the spread of the virus by those who might not be showing symptoms yet. It will also help preserve medical grade masks for healthcare workers.

“So wearing homemade masks is recommended for the general public if you are in a situation where social distancing is impossible,” explained Dunn. “Social distancing is still paramount to this response and it will still help us drop cases down. For example, if you are going to the grocery store or pharmacy and you’re in a situation where it is just not possible to stay greater than six-feet away from people, wearing a homemade mask will help you not spread whatever you have, potentially COVID-19, to others. But it will not protect you from getting it.”

Thursday was the fourth largest jump in the number of cases since the state started collecting and publishing its data. The average of positive cases compared to completed tests though still remains around 5 percent.

Gov. Herbert said the virus is impacting all areas of people’s lives now. He announced a new partnership with Intermountain Healthcare, with the launch of a free hotline to help residents receive emotional help. The counselling center is open seven days a week by calling 833-442-2211.

“These are anxious times,” said Gov. Herbert. “Many families are under stress. This is a new environment we have never been involved with before. I see polling that not only are we concerned about the stress on our own health, but the poll now shows that 60 percent of us are more concerned about the economic health of our state than our wellbeing.”

The press conference came on the same day that Capitol Reef National Park officials announced the closure of the park. It joins Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches and Canyonlands that all closed previously.

Gov. Herbert concluded by asking residents to join him and others, to fast and pray for help from the COVID-19 pandemic during the Easter Holiday weekend. He also encouraged everyone to look for ways to help their neighbors or those who are less fortunate.

We don’t have to look very far to find those people who are looking for maybe just a shoulder to lean on, a helping hand, and a word of encouragement,” said Gov. Herbert. “So, along with our prayer efforts, let’s make sure we have our do efforts in place, where we do things and help people. We have an opportunity because we are a blessed people here in the great state of Utah and here in America.”

Thursday’s press conference was held as the Bear River Health Department announced no change in the number of virus patients in Northern Utah. There are 41 total cases, 28 positive tests in Cache County and 13 in Box Elder County. There are still no cases in Rich County.


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