Masks work, the end of the pandemic is not yet in sight and Salt Lake City has resources for residents and businesses facing financial uncertainty.
Erin Mendenhall, mayor of Utah’s capital city, and state epidemiologist Angela Dunn answered myriad coronavirus questions during a live lunchtime “ask me anything” event hosted on Facebook Friday afternoon.
Participants had questions about masks, including whether they made a difference on COVID-19 cases and whether they could cause other health impacts from anxiety to tooth decay.
“Really, the evidence shows that masks work,” Dunn said. “They prevent COVID-19 spread up to 80% and there are very minimal negative side effects.”
Mendenhall said mask wearing needs to be depoliticized.
“It’s not a political statement and should not be a political statement,” Mendenhall said. “If we’re really interested in reopening and rebuilding our economy we have to take this mask wearing seriously.”
A coronavirus vaccine won’t be ready until the middle of winter at the soonest. Even then, there won’t be enough to go around at first. Dunn encouraged Utahns to get a flu vaccine when it becomes available in September to avoid compounding health problems.
“In just a few short weeks, everyone should really focus on preventing as much flu as we can because our health systems really can’t handle flu on top of COVID,” Dunn said.
Dunn also noted that as students return to school and play contact sports, the Utah Department of Health “definitely” expects to see more COVID-19 cases.
“There is still so much we don’t know about COVID-19 and how it spreads, especially among our young population,” Dunn said. “A lot of that is because schools closed so quickly” when the coronavirus began spreading in Utah earlier this year.
When asked when Salt Lake City will move from “orange” to the “yellow” pandemic response phase, Mendenhall said that while rates of infection are decreasing, the west side of the city remains disproportionately vulnerable. That area also has more children per capita and more people of color, the mayor said.
“That’s what we’re going to keep looking at, the half of our city that’s been the hardest hit and continues to be the hardest hit,” Mendenhall said.
She noted that the city is working on getting members of those communities tested and providing educational materials in multiple languages.
The mayor also fielded numerous questions about economic relief, including how residents can get help paying rent, mortgages and business expenses. Mendenhall said that funds are available and encouraged those facing financial hardship to “dial 211″ to get connected with local resources.
Mendenhall said she has worked with other capital city mayors across the country to lobby Congress for more flexibility in how they can spend funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to better support local businesses.
To watch the full question and answer session, visit the Salt Lake City government Facebook page.