SALT LAKE CITY — While presenting data showing her countywide mask mandate has helped slow the spread of COVID-19, Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson yet again called on Gov. Gary Herbert to issue a statewide mask mandate.

“I really believe leadership is about action at the right times,” Wilson said.

While Wilson thanked Herbert for allowing her mask mandate to take effect about four weeks ago, she also called on the governor to require masks across Utah in light of now “local evidence” showing that a mask mandate works.

“I do think a requirement makes a difference,” the mayor said. “The data shows the stabilization and even a decline for Salt Lake County right now. For those reasons, and as a parent, I would encourage (Herbert) to expedite his timeline to enact a statewide requirement now.”

Gov. Gary Herbert walks to the podium to take questions during a press briefing at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, July 22, 2020. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

But even as Herbert’s own state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn said Wednesday that Salt Lake County’s mask mandate “correlates” and is likely a factor in a trend toward a decrease in coronavirus cases, Herbert did not signal whether Salt Lake County’s data will change his mind.

Herbert, during a weekly press briefing, responded to multiple questions about his unwillingness to issue a statewide mask mandate and reiterated he has been a steady supporter of Utahns wearing masks voluntarily.

Even though Herbert admitted the science has been “accumulating” to support wearing masks, the governor said, “We’ll have to wait and see. I’m not ready to say that’s the absolute cause and effect of the reduction in Salt Lake County.”

Herbert said while he doesn’t think it’s “hurt the cause,” he said there could be other factors at play.

Yet the governor said a statewide mask mandate is still a possible tool. He also said that a business mask mandate could be another option, adding that the Salt Lake Chamber and business community “like” that approach.

“So we’ll be counseling with our medical advisers, our scientific people, looking at the data, certainly we’ll have input from the business community, too, in a balanced approach,” Herbert said. “So we’ll wait and see what the data informs us by Aug. 1 and decide what to do.”

Earlier this month, Herbert said that if the state doesn’t reduce its rolling seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases to less than 500 cases by Aug. 1, he could trigger “more aggressive action by the government” that could include a statewide mask mandate.

The health department said Wednesday the current seven-day average is at 627 cases.

Herbert did urge Utahns as they head into the Pioneer Day weekend to wear masks if they are seeing family and to gather outdoors.

“This weekend when I’m going to be with my family, I can tell you I will be wearing my mask,” the governor said. “I think that’s showing respect for my family members and my loved ones and makes them feel more comfortable, too. All of us should be doing it.”

Herbert even urged Utahns to read a recent BYU study that found masks do help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“I believe the science is virtually unanimous, it’s very clear that wearing a mask will help keep people who have the virus but aren’t showing the symptoms from spreading it to others,” Herbert said, urging Utahns to “be wise, wear a mask and social distance and wash your hands.”

Salt Lake County data

Wilson held her own news conference Wednesday to discuss data that shows her mask mandate has helped slow the spread of COVID-19 in Utah’s most population-dense county.

“Today, we’re sharing data that indicates that face coverings and other interventions implemented by Salt Lake County are having a positive impact,” she said. “These actions are saving lives, protecting health, and stabilizing the spread of COVID-19 cases here in Salt Lake County. And accordingly, we’re seeing economic relief from these actions.”

The data shows Salt Lake County’s overall COVID-19 cases dropped toward 40% of the state’s total of COVID-19 cases. Prior to the mayor’s mask mandate, the county accounted for upward of 60% of the state’s overall COVID-19 cases.

County officials presented several graphs showing Salt Lake County’s average seven-day new case count has begun to drop, while cases in other areas of the state have continued to spike. The county data also showed Salt Lake County’s hospitalizations have begun to slightly level when compared to hospitalizations in the rest of the state that are still on the rise.

“We know that COVID-19 is a powerful competitor and it will be with us for some time, but we do have the power to reduce its harm in our community,” the county mayor said. “We know this action works.”

Not having a statewide mask mandate, Wilson said, “it actually sets Salt Lake County back as we make the tough calls, frankly.”

Dunn said state officials are beginning to “see evidence of a plateau followed by a decrease in total statewide cases every day.” That trend, she said, started around July 10, “in part due to the large decreases we’re seeing in Salt Lake County cases every single day.”

July 10 is exactly two weeks after Wilson implemented her mask mandate. Since that date, the county’s daily coronavirus case counts have for the most part remained under 300. Before that, they had reached into the high-300s and even surpassed 400.

Salt Lake County’s mask mandate — a public health order that requires residents to wear masks when out in public when social distancing isn’t possible — is a public health order punishable as a class B misdemeanor, but county officials have emphasized the health order is education-focused, with “gentle warnings” from law enforcement if necessary.

10 more deaths

Utah matched its high of deaths reported in a single day on Wednesday.

At least another 10 Utahns have died of COVID-19, bringing the state’s death toll to 260, according to a tally reported by the Utah Department of Health.

One death listed Tuesday was removed from Utah’s total death tally while being further investigated by the state medical examiner’s office to determine whether COVID-19 “actually caused the death of that individual,” Dunn said in the press briefing.

“For those who lost loved ones, we mourn with you, we love you, we’re sorry, for this unique situation,” Herbert said, “and we need to do better as a state and as a community to find ways to solve this particular problem.”

Gov. Gary Herbert and state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn arrive for a press briefing at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, July 22, 2020. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

The Utah Department of Health reported an increase of 566 cases of COVID-19 in Utah on Wednesday, bringing the total number of infections statewide since the pandemic began to 35,578.

“We need to continue to push to get our case counts lower, and we know how to do this,” Dunn said, urging all Utahns to social distance and wear masks in public, stay home when sick and use good hand hygiene. “If we do these things, we will continue to have the confidence we need to open up schools safely, engage in our economy, preserve our hospital capacity and keep our community safe.”

The seven-day average number of new cases is 627 per day, and the average positive rate of tests is 9.5%. Currently, 197 patients are receiving hospital treatment for the novel coronavirus, with the state’s total number of people needing hospital treatment at 2,135 since the pandemic hit Utah.

Dunn said Utah has seen some “really positive trends” in the state’s COVID-19 data over the past week.

“Even though our cases are still high, our hospitalization rate has been decreasing,” Dunn said. “We’ve seen only a 2% increase in our active hospitalizations in the past 14 days, compared to the previous two weeks. And our overall hospitalization rate is now at 6%.”

CDC study

Additionally, Dunn said new figures released by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday are a “phenomenal” indication that Utah is conducting enough testing to capture a clearer picture of how many Utahns actually have COVID-19.

The CDC posted a second round of seroprevalence data collected from several states, including Utah, from blood samples collected by commercial labs as part of routine patient care — not COVID-19 care. The survey aims to identify how many people have COVID-19 antibodies that haven’t been detected through COVID-19 testing. Some people can contract and spread COVID-19 without even knowing they have it if they’re asymptomatic.

The CDC’s first round of seroprevalence data from Utah — collected from April 20 to May 3 — showed Utah had an estimate of 2.2% seroprevalence, which means there could have been at least 11 times more cases than had been recorded based on seroprevalence data and reported cases. But according to the second round of data reported Tuesday — collected from May 25 to June 5 — that estimate dropped to 1.1% seroprevalence, meaning there could be at least twice as many cases than recorded.

“That’s phenomenal,” Dunn told the Deseret News Wednesday, saying that shows Utah’s testing is capturing a more complete picture than other states in the U.S. For example, that survey found the New York City metro area had a 23.2% seroprevalence estimate, showing that COVID-19 cases could be at least 10 times higher than reported.

However, there is a caveat, Dunn said. That data was collected before Utah’s surge in cases, “so things might look different now.” But she noted that more seroprevalence data is being collected as part of the ongoing Utah HERO study, a partnership between the David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah and University of Utah Health.

Daily numbers

The 5,959 test results recorded Wednesday bring the state’s lab test total to 569,107 involving 481,402 people.

Of the 10 new deaths reported Wednesday, five were Salt Lake County men, one between the age of 65-84 who was hospitalized at the time of death and was a resident in a long-term care facility; one between 45-64 who was hospitalized at time of death; one between 65-84 who was not hospitalized at time of death and was a long-term care facility resident; a male between the ages of 15 and 24 who was not hospitalized at the time of death; and a man who was between 65-84, not hospitalized at time of death.

Two were Salt Lake County women, one older than 85 who was not hospitalized at the time of death and was a long-term care facility resident; and one between 65-84 who was hospitalized at the time of death.

One was a Davis County woman who was between 65-84, and was not hospitalized at time of death; one was a Sevier County woman, between 45-64, not hospitalized at time of death and was a long-term care facility resident; and one was a Weber County man, between 65-84, who was hospitalized at the time of death in a long-term care facility.

The number of cases considered recovered after passing the three-week point since their diagnoses stands at 22,532.

The latest breakdown of Utah cases, hospitalizations and deaths by health district:

  • Salt Lake County, 17,123; 1,132 hospitalized; 145 deaths.
  • Utah County, 6,659; 314 hospitalized; 31 deaths.
  • Southwest Utah, 2,563; 139 hospitalized; 21 deaths.
  • Davis County, 2,468; 145 hospitalized; 9 deaths.
  • Bear River (Box Elder, Cache, Rich), 1,978; 77 hospitalized; 5 deaths.
  • Weber-Morgan, 2,149; 136 hospitalized; 24 deaths.
  • Summit County, 645; 51 hospitalized; 1 death.
  • San Juan County, 550; 72 hospitalized; 19 deaths.
  • Wasatch County, 497; 20 hospitalized; 4 deaths.
  • Tooele County, 448; 19 hospitalized; 0 deaths.
  • Central Utah, 312; 19 hospitalized; 1 death.
  • TriCounty (Uinta Basin), 123; 8 hospitalized; 0 deaths.
  • Southeast Utah, 63; 3 hospitalized; 0 deaths