SALT LAKE CITY – It appears that Gov. Gary Herbert and Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox will be able to continue to avoid facing the music on the hot-button issue of face masks.
Herbert has been quick to approve requests from local officials to mandate mask wearing. Those requests from Grand, Salt Lake and Summit county officials were previously approved and the Utah Department of Health confirmed today that a similar request from Logan Mayor Holly Daines has also been granted.
But Herbert has rejected numerous appeals to impose a similar mandate on a statewide basis.
Instead, Herbert deferred any decision on imposing more coronavirus restrictions until after Aug. 1. That delay was necessary, the governor says, to see if Utah could decrease its rolling seven-day average of daily COVID-19 cases to fewer than 500.
State epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn now says Utah is close to meeting that goal. On Wednesday, the Utah Department of Health reported 339 positive COVID-19 tests, the lowest daily case count since June 16. That puts the state’s seven-day rolling average of new cases at 511.
On the gubernatorial campaign trail, Democratic candidate of Chris Peterson has challenged Herbert and Cox to put public health ahead of political considerations by imposing a statewide mask mandate. Peterson has been particularly insistent that Cox take a stand on the politically charged issue of face masks.
“It’s becoming increasingly clear that face masks are one of the most effective strategies we have for controlling the virus and restarting our economy …” the University of Utah professor argues. “So (Cox’) position on that is a relevant topic of discussion in the upcoming election.”
Despite being the head of the state’s COVID-19 Task Force and the GOP nominee to replace Herbert, the lieutenant governor’s response on the topic of mandatory mask wearing is “No Comment.”
Cox has used social media multiple times in recent weeks to implore Utahns to do the right thing by voluntarily wearing masks in public.
“Please, just wear masks,” Cox said in a recent podcast. “Don’t make us make you. Just do it.”
But the gubernatorial candidate has refused to say whether he supports a statewide mask order.
In response to numerous media queries on the issue, the Cox campaign will only say that the lieutenant governor is continuing his policy of not politicizing the state’s efforts to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.
The crux of the mandatory mask issue is the possibility a statewide mandate would alienate Cox’ mostly rural and conservative political base.
Statewide mask mandates have been imposed in 30 states so far, but Herbert and Cox seem determined to avoid the issue at all costs.
The governor has ordered that face coverings be worn in all state buildings and in pubic K-12 schools. But he continues to argue that decisions about mask mandates are best made at city and county level.