SALT LAKE CITY — Even as Utah health officials and hospitals deal with ever-growing COVID-19 case counts, some residents remain upset about the statewide mask mandate and other temporary restrictions recently put in place by Gov. Gary Herbert and the Utah Department of Health.
Under the public health order that went into effect Nov. 9, casual social gatherings between people of separate households are halted until Nov. 23, as well as most extracurricular activities except for intercollegiate athletic events and high school athletic championship games and practices.
On Sunday, Utah health officials reported 2,667 additional COVID-19 cases and eight deaths. The new cases were confirmed out of 10,485 people tested, with a 25.4% positive rate, according to the Utah Department of Health. The rolling seven-day average for new cases is 2,985 per day, and the average positive test rate is 24.34%.
Meanwhile, a group of about 75 people met in front of Herbert’s personal residence in Orem to protest the public health order in a rally organized by the group Concerned Citizens of Utah, which has vocally opposed restrictions during the pandemic.
The protest took place despite an ordinance by the Orem City Council that was passed and went into effect on Friday ahead of the expected rallies. The ordinance bans targeted residential picketing in the city. According to the City Council, the U.S. Supreme Court has previously upheld a municipal ordinance that banned targeted picketing in front of a residence.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, criticized the demonstrations on Twitter Sunday evening, saying, “Don’t protest at someone’s home. Protest all you want, but don’t threaten the family of the person you’re trying to influence. And make no mistake — that’s exactly what you’re doing when you show up to protest at the place where they sleep.”
Don’t protest at someone’s home. Protest all you want, but don’t threaten the family of the person you’re trying to influence. And make no mistake—that’s exactly what you’re doing when you show up to protest at the place where they sleep. https://t.co/9XpXlIFrh7— Mike Lee (@SenMikeLee) November 16, 2020
A video from the event showed a parade of vehicles with flags waving out of their windows crowding Herbert’s cul-de-sac, with protesters shouting “Honk your horn!” as cars drove through.
State trooper vehicles were parked in Herbert’s driveway during the rally. Orem police were also on scene observing the demonstration, but no arrests were made.
The protesters, which included families with young children, held signs with messages like “Mandates are tyranny” and “Just say no 2 masks.”
Protester Benjamin Berneche described to the group the hardships faced by his mother in a care facility during the pandemic due to restrictions within the facility.
“She wasn’t allowed to eat at the table with other residents, she wasn’t allowed to be friends with them anymore or to interact with them. She wasn’t able to let her interact with us. They let me come and talk to her through a window on a telephone, but she was too deaf to hear a word I said. And all she did was cry and beg to be let out,” Berneche said. “She felt entirely abandoned.”
He said his mom “gave up and died,” and not of coronavirus. Berneche said another friend of his wife’s also recently died.
“And if Gov. Herbert had his way, we would not go to her home, hug her loved ones, comfort them, and stand at the grave,” Berneche said. “These things have real consequences for real people, and we will resist.”
The comments were met with cheers by the group as one woman shouted, “Gov. Herbert, we refuse to comply.”
But Herbert’s neighbors showed their support for him, with one stretching a banner across their front yard that said: “Thank you Gov. Herbert!”
Another protest was planned by the group later Sunday in front of governor-elect and current Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox’s private home in rural Fairview in Sanpete County.
“Never dreamed I would have protestors at my home in Fairview. But we don’t get many visitors, so if you make the long drive, the least we can do is make you cookies and hot chocolate. I’m glad I got a chance to tell them I love them even if we disagree on masks,” Cox tweeted, along with a photo of cookie dough.
Never dreamed I would have protestors at my home in Fairview. But we don’t get many visitors, so if you make the long drive, the least we can do is make you cookies and hot chocolate. I’m glad I got a chance to tell them I love them even if we disagree on masks. #OneUtah pic.twitter.com/lFTZ12e0wT— Spencer Cox (@SpencerJCox) November 15, 2020
On Sunday, 484 patients were hospitalized with the disease in Utah, which is three fewer than were hospitalized the previous day. Intensive care units across the state were 85% full overall, and referral ICUs that can treat more serious COVID-19 patients were 88.8% full.
The deaths reported Sunday bring the state’s toll to 718. They were: one Garfield County man, one Salt Lake County man, and one Utah County man, all of whom were older than 85 and two who were hospitalized when they died.
Three people between 65 and 84 also died — a Utah County man, a Washington County woman and a Weber County man. All three were hospitalized.
Two long-term care residents were also among the deaths — a Cache County woman older than 85, and a Washington County man between 45-64.
To date, 153,808 cases have been confirmed out of 1,244,735 people tested in Utah, a 12.4% positive rate. At least 104,000 cases are now considered recovered after surviving the three-week point since their diagnoses. Hospitalizations since the outbreak began now total 6,769.
Correction: A previous version incorrectly stated that protesters went to Cox’s home in Fairfield in Utah County. It is actually in Fairview in Sanpete County.
Contributing: Garna Mejia