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‘We need to continue to get back to normal,’ Gov. Cox says

He’ll sign ban on school mask mandates

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox addresses mask rules for COVID-19 at his monthly news conference at the PBS Utah studios in Salt Lake City
Gov. Spencer Cox speaks at his monthly news conference at the PBS Utah studios on the University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City on Thursday, May 20, 2021.
Trent Nelson

Gov. Spencer Cox on Thursday lauded the new federal guidelines that no longer recommend Americans wear a mask to stop the spread of COVID-19 after being fully vaccinated, saying the move is “healthy for our souls and it’s healthy for our country.”

The governor also said during the taping of his monthly news conference on PBS Utah in Salt Lake City that he will sign the bill passed by the Legislature in special session Wednesday banning face mask requirements in schools starting with the new academic year.

Cox said he’s not worried about moving too quickly to put the pandemic in the past as Utahns embrace last week’s change in policy from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an abrupt shift that has been called confusing.

“This is the simplest guidance we’ve ever gotten from the CDC. That is, basically, if you’re fully vaccinated you don’t have to wear a mask and if you’re not, you do. That’s it,” he said, adding not only is that clear, “it couldn’t be more correct.”

Gov. Spencer Cox speaks at his monthly news conference at the PBS Utah studios on the University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City on Thursday, May 20, 2021.
Gov. Spencer Cox speaks at his monthly news conference at the PBS Utah studios on the University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City on Thursday, May 20, 2021.
Trent Nelson

Tossing masks aside two weeks after receiving a final dose of vaccine should serve as an incentive to get vaccinated, the governor said, noting Utah saw an uptick at mass vaccination sites following the federal announcement.

People showed up for the shots, he said, because they’d heard they’d no longer have to be masked.

“Obviously, there were people who weren’t wearing masks before. There will be people who are not fully vaccinated who are not wearing masks. That’s a mistake. But certainly people get the opportunity to choose that,” Cox said, adding it’s time for Utahns to take care of themselves by either getting vaccinated or masking up.

He acknowledged not everyone may agree with the latest recommendations about wearing masks. A recent informal survey of epidemiologists by the New York Times found most believed masks would be around a year or more and even the fully vaccinated should don face coverings in large outdoor crowds.

“It’s amazing to me that the people who said trust the science are now not trusting the science,” the governor said, adding, “now we’re seeing the other side of the partisanship in the pandemic, where people disagree with the science behind this. Again, the science is very clear.”

Cox said once Utahns are fully vaccinated, their chances of catching the virus are slim, and any breakthrough COVID-19 cases are likely to be mild, so they shouldn’t worry about whether or not someone else not wearing a mask has gotten their shots.

“Whether you trust the person next to you or not, i don’t care and it doesn’t matter if you’ve been fully vaccinated, If you haven’t been fully vaccinated, then I would be really nervous and I would exercise caution,” he said, adding however, that anyone who still wants to wear. a mask after getting the shots should not be judged.

As of Thursday the Utah Department of Health reported 2,464,088 vaccine doses have been administered in the state, a daily increase of 19,236. The percent of Utahns who are fully vaccinated has now reached 35.7%, and 44.4% have had at least one dose.

“We do need to continue to get back to normal,” the governor said, describing recently sitting in a packed Hale Centre Theatre audience as “so great. I can’t tell you how great it was to have everybody back together, everybody, again, fully vaccinated, not wearing a mask” and watching a performance.

“That’s what we’ve been missing over the past year. We’re wired for connection and now we get to connect again,” Cox said. “That’s healthy for our souls and it’s healthy for our country.”

Utah lawmakers did away with the statewide mask mandate as of April 10 and lifted other restrictions earlier this month, except for the K-12 school mask requirement. In a special legislative session Wednesday, they voted to ban such mandates in the future.

Cox, who announced last week masks would not be required during the final week of this school year and had suggested students may be done with them for good, said he is supportive of the Legislature removing the mandate.

He said children 12 to 15 years old are now eligible to be vaccinated against the virus and the risk of younger children becoming severely ill is “extremely low,” but it is important for them to see faces as they develop language skills.

But should circumstances change, the governor said he would be able to impose a mask mandate in schools for 30 days and the Legislature could take action to extend that further if needed. Utah is leading the nation in vaccinating 12- to- 15-year-olds, he said, with about 20,000 getting shots so far, including his 14-year-old daughter.

Cox noted the state’s rolling seven-day average for positive cases is down to 291 per day as of Thursday, well below the goal of 400 cases. The state health department reported 266 new COVID-19 cases and four additional deaths from the virus Thursday.

There have been 4,445 Utahns tested for the coronavirus, and 9,128 tests conducted, since Wednesday. The rolling seven-day average for percent positivity of tests is 3.4% when all results are included, the state’s preferred method, and 6.3% when multiple tests by an individual are excluded.

Currently, 139 people are hospitalized in Utah with the virus. The state’s death toll has reached 2,279 with the four additional deaths reported Thursday. They are:

  • A Weber County man, older than 85, hospitalized at time of death.
  • A Washington County man, between 25 and 44, hospitalized at time of death.
  • A Summit County man, between 65 and 84, hospitalized at time of death.
  • A Davis County man, between 45 and 64, hospitalized at time of death.