Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson tells Utah leaders to ‘step up’ on supporting masks, COVID-19 vaccines

A teacher whose husband has leukemia and a health care worker share their stories in new public health campaign to get people vaccinated.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Shelly Wenzbauer is overcome with emotion while speaking at a news conference encouraging vaccinations and mask use to curb the spread of COVID-19 in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021.

Like other Utahns, Shelly Wenzbauer “suffered” through the coronavirus pandemic last year, she said, and was “frustrated with having things shut down” as she worked as a high school biology teacher.

“Then, last December, my husband was diagnosed with leukemia, and that changed my life,” Wenzbauer said, turning away from the microphone as she cried at a new conference Tuesday outside the Salt Lake County Government Center.

As Wenzbauer spoke to reporters, her husband was hospitalized for a bone marrow transplant, she said. While the couple both got vaccinated, her husband’s vaccine was “completely ineffective” now with his white blood count at zero, impairing his body’s ability to fight off COVID-19.

“Things are really looking good. They’re positive,” Wenzbauer said about his condition. “But,” she said through tears, “I need the help of the community” to keep her husband and others safe.

Mayor Jenny Wilson said her team is using its resources to coordinate with schools and testing teams to curb the current surge of COVID-19 in the Beehive State.

“What we now need,” she said, “are policy makers willing to step up.”

Specifically, the county mayor said she wants to see state leaders and the Legislature work on policy related to masks and vaccinations.

“We’ve been through a lot of interventions along the way,” Wilson said, with restaurants affected and businesses closed during the pandemic.

“We’re not suggesting that,” she said. “What we’re suggesting,” the mayor said, is to get people vaccinated who haven’t been already, and for Utahns to wear a mask when they are around other people.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson speaks at a news conference encouraging mask use in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021.

That’s the message that Wilson and Dr. Angela Dunn, executive director of the county health department, pushed at the news conference in Salt Lake City, where they announced a new vaccination campaign.

According to Wilson, 85% of the people who died from COVID-19 in Salt Lake County from the beginning of the year through Sept. 10 were unvaccinated. And those who haven’t received the vaccine are more likely to become sick with COVID-19 and be hospitalized with the virus, she said.

“The politics associated with this pandemic have obscured the scientific facts and the human impact that COVID has had on our families, our friends and our communities,” Dunn said.

Wenzbauer and other Utahns shared their personal stories in the new phase of the “This Is Our Shot” campaign, Dunn said, “so that we can learn from them, before it’s too late for the rest of us.”

The county featured people who lost loves ones to the virus, suffer from long COVID and “whose livelihoods have been seriously impacted by this pandemic,” Dunn said. They include health care workers, teachers, people of color and members of the LGBTQ community, she said.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Dr. Angela Dunn speaks at a news conference encouraging mask use in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021.

“Right now, our hospitals are under water,” Wilson said, with intensive care units overcapacity and surgeries being delayed.

“It’s a very, very frightening time for us as a community,” she said.

“The nurses are tired. The doctors are tired,” said Erika Tse, a pediatric physician assistant in the Salt Lake City area, who is also featured in the county’s campaign. “We can’t continue to fight this fight anymore without the help of the community.”

“Every single person’s decisions make a difference,” she said. “Don’t think that yours won’t make a difference.”

And “to those that say masks don’t work in our leadership in this very state, we have proof right now that it does work,” Tse said.

Before the school year began, Mayor Erin Mendenhall issued an emergency mask order for Salt Lake City schools. On Monday, Dunn said the capital city’s schools currently have the lowest rate of transmission among the county’s five school districts, as well as the highest rate of vaccinations.

Tse urged people to talk with their health care providers about any concerns they may have about the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Please read the legit and 100% scientific facts,” Tse said, stressing the word “legit.” “Don’t believe things from your neighbors or from sites that are not completely verified.”

Utahns can find out where to get vaccinated at coronavirus.utah.gov/vaccine-distribution.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Posters at a news conference encouraging mask use in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021.