SALT LAKE CITY — Officials continued to stress the importance of face masks, social distancing and good hygiene, to combat the spread of COVID-19. The recommendations were stressed as health officials illustrated the increased death rate from the virus and outlined new guidelines for reopening schools.
Utah State Epidemiologist Angela Dunn said there are several key differences between COVID-19 and the yearly flu that concerns healthcare workers. Most notably, it is more infectious and deadly.
“Already to date, we’ve had twice as many hospitalizations and five times as many deaths due to COVID-19 compared to last year’s flu season,” said Dunn.
The press conference was held hours after Gov. Gary Herbert approved Logan City Mayor Holly Daines’ mask mandate. It requires face coverings to be worn indoors in public places whenever contact with other individuals is likely and outdoors whenever social distancing cannot be maintained.
Dunn spoke about face masks during Thursday’s press conference, explaining that state numbers show they are effective. Salt Lake County, who implemented a similar mandate, have seen a decrease in cases during the past month.
“We know that Salt Lake County is seeing a true decrease in cases. About two-weeks after their mask mandate went into effect, we have seen a really sharp decline and that is also contributing to our overall statewide decline in cases. For most of the pandemic, Salt Lake County contributed to over 50 percent of our cases statewide. Now they are about 40-45 percent of our cases. So they are dropping quicker than surrounding jurisdictions across the state.”
Thursday numbers from the Utah State Department of Health showed the decrease in new cases continuing. 508 cases of the disease were reported during the past 24-hours. At the same time, nine more deaths were reported.
Dunn expressed hope in numbers over the past several weeks that have begun decreasing. She said it is important that the state continue the downward trajectory.
“We have the opportunity to start school with case counts decreasing and being more in control. To do this, we need everybody to continue wearing face masks in public, practicing physical distancing, staying home when you are ill and using good hand hygiene. If we all do these things, we will continue to see a decrease in cases and start school as safely as possible.”
Less than a month before schools are planned to restart, state leaders also released a new manual to guide educators on how to safely reopen classrooms. The 102 page document provides public health recommendations to help protect students, teachers, and employees.
Gov. Herbert said there is no guarantee, stopping the spread of COVID-19 in classrooms compared to anywhere else. The School Manual though will try to minimize the risks and address what to do if there is an outbreak.
“If we do have spread,” explained Herbert, “there (are) protocols for what we do if it happens, including closing down the classroom and maybe closing down the school. We are not going to sit back in the corner, wring our hands and say ‘well, I guess we can’t do anything.’ We can do something and we may be doing more distance learning than we would like too, opposed to face-to-face, but we will find this out as we work together to find the solution.”
State officials said they will be updating the school guidelines as the situation demands.