Gov. Spencer Cox urged Utahns Thursday to treat each other better after a new state law lifted restrictions intended to slow the spread of COVID-19, but not the mask mandate for K-12 students that sparked a heated protest earlier this week.

“There is no right way to come out of a pandemic,” the governor said during his weekly briefing on the state’s efforts against COVID-19, held virtually from the state Capitol in Salt Lake City. “For those restrictions that still remain in place, again, please show kindness, please show some humanity and some grace.”

A Granite School Board meeting was abruptly adjourned Tuesday after attendees jeered speakers, chanted “no more masks” and said they were taking control of the board, some wearing See My Smile T-shirts representing a parent organization seeking an end to the statewide health order requiring masks in schools.

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When asked specifically about the event, widely shared on social media, the governor said that during the pandemic, “we’ve seen kids act like adults and unfortunately, there’s been a few cases where we’ve seen adults act like kids.”

Gov. Spencer Cox provides updates on the ongoing pandemic during a weekly briefing on COVID-19 at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, May 6, 2021. | Leah Hogsten

He said he doesn’t like giving attention to people “who deserve it the least and that’s certainly the case here. So people can embarrass themselves. They can do those types of things. But by and large, again, Utahns have been really, really good through this pandemic. I want to focus on all the good that’s been done.”

For Utahns who are upset about the K-12 mask mandate, Cox noted they’ll be gone when the school year ends in a few weeks, along with the test-to-play requirements.

“Just hang on there. We’re at the end. Let’s end this the right way and let’s go forward and have positive interactions with each other,” the governor said.

The new law, which also ended the statewide mask mandate on April 10, removed all other restrictions except for those in schools as of Tuesday. That’s when the state hit the final threshold, receiving a total of 1.63 million first vaccine doses from the federal government in addition to keeping case counts and hospitalizations down.

“What this means, though, is a transition to people and institutions to make choices that they believe are necessary to keep their employees and patrons safe, and they will continue to do that,” Cox said. “It is really about personal responsibility. People need to exercise caution, especially those that are not vaccinated or who are at high risk.”

Praise for state epidemiologist

Both the governor and Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson lauded the work of state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn, who is stepping down to lead the Salt Lake County Health Department. In honor of Dunn’s final briefing, Cox wore an “I (Heart) Dr. Dunn” T-shirt, a sentiment that sprang up in yard signs after protesters targeted her home last fall.

“She has saved lives,” Henderson said of Dunn, for many the face of Utah’s fight against COVID-19. “The work that she has done for our state has saved many lives. And we’re very, very thankful for that, and grateful to her, and wish her the very best in her future endeavors.”

Cox, who as lieutenant governor at the start of the pandemic helped lead the state’s coronavirus response, praised Dunn not only for how she handled the health crisis but also “criticism that was never deserved and never expected in a job like hers. She didn’t run for office. She’s simply here to help us keep the public safe.”

Dunn expressed thanks for the support she’s received, but focused on what she called good news, a “huge decrease” in the rolling seven-day average for COVID-19 cases in the state, from 380 a week ago to 343 on Thursday.

State epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn provides updates on the ongoing pandemic during a weekly briefing on COVID-19 at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, May 6, 2021. Dunn is leaving her statewide post to lead Salt Lake County’s Health Department. | Leah Hogsten
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She said more vaccinations will keep those numbers coming down, especially once 12- to 15-year-olds are eligible to get the shots. Federal approval could come as soon as early next week, Dunn said, and will be “fantastic for Utah,” since there are about 215,000 Utahns aged 12-15.

“This age group, in part, is contributing to the COVID spread right now. So having 12- to 15-year-olds get vaccinated will really cause our cases to just plummet,” Dunn said, adding, “it’s also going to allow our extracurricular activities to continue safely and in the fall, it’s going to help schools be a safe place for students and teachers.”

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Cox said the state is attempting to reach Utahns who have yet to be vaccinated by making it easier, with some vaccination sites no longer requiring appointments and a new federal resource that allows someone to text their ZIP code to 438829 to see three nearby locations where shots are available.

The governor said there are still plenty of people in the state who willing to get the shots if they’re more convenient. He said Utah’s declining cases and increasing vaccinations are a good defense against surges caused by variants of the virus that have been seen in other states.

“We never say never. You don’t declare victory until we get to the end of thing,” he said. “But I think we all feel pretty good about things.”

No additional deaths in daily case report

Thursday, the Utah Department of Health reported 395 new COVID-19 cases but no additional deaths. There have now been a total of 399,374 cases of the virus in Utah since the pandemic began some 14 months ago, and the state’s death toll is at 2,219.

The governor said he expects the state will reach the “incredible milestone” of having 1 million Utahns fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, meaning it’s been at least two weeks since their final dose. To date, a total of 2,242,271 vaccine doses have been administered in Utah, a daily increase of 17,760.

There have been 6,695 Utahns tested for COVID-19, and 13,562 tests conducted since Wednesday, putting that rolling seven-day average for positive tests at 343 per day. The rolling seven-day average for percent positivity of tests is 3.5%. when all results are included and 6.7% when multiple tests by an individual are excluded.

Currently, 142 people are hospitalized in Utah with the virus, bringing the total hospitalizations in the state to 16,303.

State epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn waves goodbye to friends and colleagues after a weekly briefing on COVID-19 at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, May 6, 2021. Dunn is leaving her statewide post to lead the Salt Lake County’s Health Department. | Leah Hogsten