SALT LAKE CITY — Even though the number of Utahns getting vaccinated against COVID-19 continues to climb as the April 10 date set to end the statewide mask mandate nears, an Intermountain Healthcare infectious diseases doctor said Friday masks should still be worn after that date.
“Honestly, I would say there’s no difference between April 9 and April 10. It’s a random date,” Dr. Todd Vento told reporters during a virtual news conference. “We all want the black-and-white answer. Is it the economy, is it the virus? Is it, you are vaccinated or not? And the answer is, this is gray. This is the real world.”
Another 519 new cases of COVID-19 and two more deaths from the virus were reported in Utah Friday, a day after the one-year anniversary of the start of the pandemic that saw the state’s death toll exceed 2,000 lives lost.
So, the doctor said, “you should continue to say, ‘If I’m out in public, I should probably be careful,’” especially since many Utahns remain at risk for contracting COVID-19. “The reality is, we still have virus,” Vento said, at levels that have dropped but are still as high as when the state was on lockdown.
“I know we’ve changed a lot, like we’ve accepted a lot more tolerance because folks want to get back to work and want to have normal. The reality that is in front of us is the reality we have to address, not the reality we want it to be. We have to work toward that reality,” he said.
Giving up wearing masks, social distancing and crowding into unventilated spaces like restaurants before an estimated 70% to 85% of Utah adults have immunity, largely through getting fully vaccinated, “is a recipe for increased cases” of the virus, including variants causing new outbreaks in other countries, Vento said.
“It’s one thing to have a legislative mandate, a legal mandate, for saying this is what we’re going to do,” he said. “But that’s really not reflecting public health smart practices in terms of what we should still do, and also individual practices,”
‘The best we could do,’ governor says
Gov. Spencer Cox has said the vaccine should be made available to all Utah adults by April 1, but it is not clear how long it will take to reach that so-called herd immunity goal. Two of the three vaccines, from Pfizer and Moderna, require two doses up to 28 days apart, and all three take at least two weeks after the last shot to be fully effective.
A total of 967,481 vaccine doses have been administered in the state as of Friday, a daily increase of 30,300.
Cox had tied lifting the state’s mask mandate to the state receiving more than 1.63 million vaccine doses, enough for 70% of Utah’s adult population, but faced lawmakers who wanted to end it immediately and claimed a veto-proof majority.
“We came up with the best we could do,” Cox told reporters Thursday. “We told them, ‘Look, every day we get 25,000, at least, new people vaccinated and get closer to that immunity ... so we’ll take as many days as you can give us. We ended up with April 10.”
But he said businesses “absolutely have a right” to continue requiring masks after April 10 and warned Utahns, “Don’t be a fool” over the issue, whether they believe masks should still be worn in public or have never donned the protective face cover.
“We have to treat each other with respect, all right?” Cox said. “This is not a free-for-all. We live in a society. We should care about each other. And if you don’t care about other people, then don’t go to places where other people are.”
This week, Utahns 50 to 64 as well as those with some less-severe health issues were added to the state’s vaccine eligibility list, which already included health care workers, first responders, long-term care facility residents and staff, K-12 teachers and school staffs, older residents and those with previously specified medical conditions.
The Utah Transit Authority announced this week that people can ride for free to and from vaccination appointments through June 30. The offer is good on all UTA services, including TRAX and FrontRunner, but riders will have to show proof of their appointments, via their phones or on paper.
Utah’s latest COVID-19 numbers
There have been 377,492 cases and 2,017 deaths from the coronavirus in the state, according to the Utah Department of Health. The deaths reported Friday are two Salt Lake County men who were hospitalized, one older than 85 and the other between 45 and 64.
Testing for the virus continues, with 5,780 more Utahns tested and another 13,535 tests conducted since Thursday. The rolling seven-day average for positive tests is 519 per day, while the rolling seven-day average for percent positivity is 4.02% when all test results are included or 8.4% when multiple tests by an individual are not.
There are 184 people currently hospitalized in Utah with COVID-19, bringing the total number hospitalized since the start of the outbreak to 15,049.