Gov. Spencer Cox says Utah’s COVID-19 response is now ‘really about personal responsibility’

State epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn joined Cox one last time to discuss the state’s status and response.

With Utah’s COVID-19 restrictions all lifted — except for in K-12 schools — Utah is shifting decisions about how to stay safe to businesses and residents, Gov. Spencer Cox said Thursday.

“It is now really about personal responsibility,” Cox said, adding that he realizes Utahns have differing opinions on what measures to take. He previously urged Utahns to act respectfully in businesses that choose to maintain restrictions.

“My request, once again, is to show some empathy and some kindness,” he said at a Thursday news conference. “There’s no right way to come out of a pandemic. Everybody is doing this at different speeds.”

Vaccine doses are now widely available, nearly 1 million Utahns are fully vaccinated, and the seven-day average for new cases is down to a level not seen since June 14 of last year, Cox said.

State epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn pointed out that seven-day average, now at 343 cases, is a “huge decrease;” it was 380 as recently as last week.

“We’re in a really, really good spot,” Dunn said.

Cox responded to what happened Tuesday night at a Granite School Board meeting, where anti-mask protesters shouted down board members — who then adjourned the meeting.

“The worst of times often brings out the best in people, but sometimes it brings out the worst in people,” Cox said. “It’s been remarkable during this pandemic, we’ve seen kids act like adults — and, unfortunately, there’s been a few cases where we’ve seen adults act like kids.”

When asked about an anti-vaccine group’s burning of a giant syringe in effigy in Moroni last weekend, Cox decried the “constant battle” against misinformation about the vaccine — and, before that, about masks and the virus itself.

“There are always people out there who are sharing bad information, who are bad actors, who are purposely trying to sow division. And there are people who are just skeptical,” Cox said.

“If you have questions or concerns,” Cox added, “Facebook is not the place to get those answers, but your doctor is.”

Largely, though, “Utahns have been really, really good through this pandemic,” Cox said. “Most people will never see the kindness, the people who sacrificed for others — to lift people who were struggling with food insecurity, people who were struggling with health, people who lost loved ones.

Thursday’s briefing was Dunn’s last as the state’s epidemiologist. She is leaving the post at the end of May, and will take her new job as executive director of the Salt Lake County Health Department on June 1, replacing the retiring Gary Edwards.

Cox, wearing an “I [Heart] Dr. Dunn” T-shirt under his sports jacket, spoke glowingly of working with Dunn during and before the pandemic.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) State epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn provides updates on the ongoing pandemic during the weekly briefing on COVID-19 at the Capitol, May 6, 2021. Dunn is leaving her statewide post to instead lead Salt Lake County's health department.

“It’s unfortunate that people in Utah only got to know her because of the pandemic, because the work that she was doing for the state of Utah before that was was absolutely critical,” Cox said, citing her effort o combat the surge in opioid addiction.

“You learn a lot about a person in the worst of times,” Cox said. He praised Dunn for “going through this fire, and … the way that she handled the burden of this crisis — as well as the criticism that was never deserved, never expected in a job like hers. She didn’t run for office. She’s simply here to help us keep the public safe. And she’s done that at every turn, at much sacrifice to her and to her family.”

Dunn kept her personal remarks short at Thursday’s briefing: “Thank you to the state of Utah, to my Utah Department of Health family, of course the media, and all the Utahns out there who have been such a great support over the past 14 months.”

Before the briefing, Dunn tweeted Thursday morning that she was “a little verklempt,” referring to a character Mike Myers once played on “Saturday Night Live.”

Statewide public health rules about COVID-19 lifted earlier this week, when the “endgame” goals defined by state lawmakers for vaccine doses delivered and other measures were reached.

But the Utah Department of Health on Tuesday issued a new public health order, as the new law allowed, to continue requiring face masks in schools and routine testing of students involved in sports and other extracurricular activities.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) State epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn waves goodbye to friends and colleagues after the weekly briefing on COVID-19 at the Capitol, May 6, 2021. Dunn is leaving her statewide post to instead lead Salt Lake County's health department.