County leaders along the populous Wasatch Front said they will do all they can to encourage compliance with Gov. Gary Herbert’s new orders mandating mask-wearing and an end to casual social gatherings.
For the first time, Herbert will also be adding teeth to his pandemic decrees. The latest executive order calls for enforced mask wearing in businesses as well as cracking down on large gatherings that don’t comply. And that drew praise from Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson.
“We haven’t heard the state say ‘enforcement’ before. Those words have not come out of the governor’s mouth until yesterday,” Wilson said, adding the new language “sends a very strong signal that the state is taking this seriously.”
The mayor said she intends to explore the county’s role in stiffer enforcement measures with Sherriff Rosie Rivera.
Wilson has criticized Herbert for not enacting a statewide mask requirement since the county’s own mandate went into effect in late June. The facial covering order corresponded with declining cases two weeks later in the Salt Lake health district, although infections are again surging.
“I am relieved that every county will comply” with mask wearing, Wilson said. “It’s been tricky, given so many people live and work in one county [and move] to the next. The virus doesn’t respect municipal county boundaries ... so this is a very good thing.”
As the state’s most populous health district, Salt Lake County has accounted for the bulk of Utah’s COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths. Wilson said she hopes the governor’s new mandates will bring a “dramatic” shift to recent trends.
In Utah County, where thousands attended a Halloween Party in violation of state orders, Commissioner Tanner Ainge encouraged residents to “do what we need to do to follow this order.”
“This also comes on a day that we have good news that a vaccine is on the horizon,” Ainge said. “This vaccine is a game changer, in that we do know this is temporary now. There is light at the end of the tunnel. We can double down and make a difference.”
The commissioner said elected leaders will direct the local health department to “play any role they’re asked to play” in enforcing the governor’s statewide mandates.
In Weber County, Commissioner Gage Froerer said leaders will ensure the county “abides by the order” and will “do our part” with enforcement.
Froerer added that he supports the statewide mask mandate, given the recent rise in infections within the Weber-Morgan health district.
“Hopefully [the governor’s mandates] will help us get through this and we can get back to near normal in the next month or two,” Froerer said.
In Davis County, commissioner Bob Stevenson worried the hospitals in his health district are filling up and said he, too, supported the governor’s latest order.
“That’s where it becomes scary. [The hospitalizations] are not just COVID-related, they’re heart attack-related pneumonia-related, all these types of things become affected because of system being overtaxed,” Stevenson said. “Something has to be done to bend this and bring it back to where it’s manageable.”
Stevenson said he expected county residents would comply with the requirements, noting that the local chamber of commerce moved a Women in Business Summit scheduled for this week online. He noted other cities and organizations in the county are having similar discussions about gatherings.
Rural San Juan County has seen some of the worst infection rates per resident in the state. Commissioner Willie Grayeyes praised the governor’s recent action.
“I support the statewide mask mandate,” Grayeyes said. “People are dying.”
But it’s not clear all local elected officials in rural Utah or in Southern Utah’s population centers will follow the governor’s orders, at least in spirit.
Washington County Commissioner Victor Iverson has previously broken with his fellow commissioners by declining to support an indoor mask proclamation and also said he “will never wear a mask” as reported by The Spectrum and Daily News. And while some local leaders and medical professionals previously complained before Sunday that the governor wasn’t doing enough to combat the coronavirus, Iverson compared Herbert to the Roman emperor Nero, allowing the economy to burn when he mandated business closures in the spring.
Iverson did not respond to multiple interview requests Monday.
The Utah Association of Counties (UAC) has its annual convention scheduled at Washington County’s Dixie Center on Nov. 19-20 and, so far, has posted no indication that it plans to cancel or move the event entirely online.
“We are currently evaluating that,” said UAC spokesperson Bryan Rodgers, noting that the association has offered a reduced-price virtual option for attendees worried about the virus.
The convention typically attracts about 300 to 350 people, including elected officials, Rodgers said. He added that about 200 people have registered to attend in person this year.
The event is technically allowed under the governor’s orders since it has a host and is not informal, confirmed the governor’s communication director Anna Lehnardt, but UAC must enforce mask wearing and social distancing.
“The reasoning behind the order is that spread is minimal at events and gatherings where protocols are carefully followed. It’s certainly worth exercising extra caution when determining whether or not to hold a conference,” Lehnardt wrote in an email, noting that the governor canceled his Economic and Energy Summit a few weeks ago due to concerns with rising COVID-19 cases.