TAYLORSVILLE — As COVID-19 cases continue spiking across the state — a record 1,198 positives reported Thursday — Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson wants to clarify that masks will help to contain disease outdoors, too.
“What we now know is that social distancing and the wearing of face masks are our strongest tools to combat COVID-19,” she said Thursday during a press conference at Valley Regional Park.
Wilson said she was “thrilled” that Utah County officials also enacted a mask mandate, and not only because Salt Lake County shares a border with Utah County. She wants case numbers to drop throughout the state.
“This virus does not respect municipal boundaries,” Wilson said.
The latest mandate for Utah County prompted the neighboring county mayor to further clarify her own mask mandate, which was first enacted in June, that “no matter where you are, if you’re around others, you should wear a mask,” she said.
“We need to continue to battle this challenge,” Wilson said, adding that the Salt Lake County mask mandate will be in place at least until a vaccine becomes available, “or we see very, very, very low cases.”
Another 1,198 new cases were reported Thursday by the Utah Department of Health, a new daily record for the state. Nearly half, 564 cases, were reported in Utah County, which instituted a mask mandate this week and where Provo and Orem have been moved to the moderate restriction, or orange, status as cases spike there.
The previous single-day record of 1,117 was reported last Friday. The 9,117 people tested for Thursday’s report puts the state over the 1 million mark for total tests reported to health officials during the pandemic. A total of 784,975 Utahns have been tested for COVID-19, the state’s website notes.
The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 has increased to 188. In all, there have been 67,119 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Utah, with 3,619 hospitalizations.
No new deaths were reported Thursday, leaving the state’s death toll at 444.
The rolling seven-day average for positive tests is 916 cases per day, with a percent positivity of 14.2%, higher than any week since cases were first reported in Utah in mid-March.
In the last two weeks, infection rates have spiked throughout the state, particularly in the highest populated areas, after what was being called a plateau ended rather abruptly in early September, according to health department data.
This week, the U.S. COVID death toll surpassed the population of #SLC Imagine that for a moment, our entire community gone. I raise this sobering point to say we must stay vigilant. Utah is spiking. Now is the moment to wear a mask, stay socially distanced, and be cautious #utpol— Mayor Erin Mendenhall (@slcmayor) September 24, 2020
Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall tweeted Thursday about how the United States’ COVID-19 death toll has now surpassed the population of Salt Lake City.
“Imagine that for a moment, our entire community gone,” she said. “I raise this sobering point to say we must stay vigilant. Utah is spiking. Now is the moment to wear a mask, stay socially distanced, and be cautious.”
Unlike any time in the past six months, new cases seem to largely be stemming from youth interactions, including some at school, though, it is difficult to know for sure. Wilson and her team of county officials have launched a new social media campaign targeting high school students, asking them to “mask up or miss out.”
Too many teens are gathering in groups larger than is responsible, she said, adding that they’re also not wearing masks when proper social distancing can’t be maintained.
“This is kids being kids, and this is definitely a hard time for them,” Wilson said. “Fewer interactions will keep us safe.”
The campaign showcases hypothetical events — dating or school dances — that can’t be experienced the same at home.
But, Wilson said family and community spread is too great a cost.
“Sadly, this is a year we have to do it differently,” she said.
Salt Lake County will be delivering 1,000 masks to each of its 23 municipalities for city mayors and other community leaders to pass out as they see fit. Wilson said Salt Lake County has a “park patrol” that visits parks and playgrounds with extra masks to hand out.
She said that enforcement has become a “nonissue” with the county’s mask mandate, and as more time has passed, businesses have actually been helped by the order. Wilson believes the same will be true for Utah County, where officials are grappling with how to enforce their new mandate.