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Gov. Cox says vaccination is the best protection against omicron COVID-19 variant

The Utah governor said he doesn’t see need for more anti-mandate measures from state lawmakers.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Governor Spencer Cox speaks during The PBS Utah Governor's Monthly News Conference, Dec. 16, 2021 at the Eccles Broadcast Center in Salt Lake City.

Utah health officials are paying close attention to the COVID-19 omicron variant as it rapidly spreads, Gov. Spencer Cox said on Thursday, but there’s no need for an elevated level of concern yet.

“There’s still so much we don’t know about omicron. We do know it spreads very quickly. It appears that it is less severe in the illness, but the data isn’t clear on that yet,” the governor said during his monthly KUED news conference.

The President Joe Biden White House warned Wednesday that the U.S. could be facing a double wave of coronavirus infections this winter from an accelerating surge of the delta variant coupled with the new omicron variant.

Cox sounded the familiar refrain of urging people to get vaccinated and included the importance of booster vaccinations with the new variant.

“What we do know is boosters work against omicron, especially to limit severe illness and hospitalization. This is my message to everyone: Now is the time to get your booster,” Cox said.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Governor Spencer Cox speaks during The PBS Utah Governor's Monthly News Conference, Dec. 16, 2021 at the Eccles Broadcast Center in Salt Lake City.

Encouraging Utahns to get the vaccine is all Cox can do at this point. Last year lawmakers handcuffed the ability to implement any number of COVID-19 mitigation measures like a mask mandate.

In November, the GOP-controlled Legislature took decisive action to neuter any COVID-19 vaccine mandates, passing a bill requiring employers to make exemptions for religious and medical reasons and for sincerely held beliefs. The third category is broad enough to render any requirement effectively toothless.

Cox agrees with efforts to push back against vaccine mandates from the White House, as he believes Biden’s use of the executive order is a flawed process that circumvented Congress.

“If the president wants to go that direction, he needs the backing of Congress, who are elected to make those laws,” the governor said.

It’s almost certain that there will be attempts by individual state lawmakers to further restrict, or even completely eliminate, COVID-19 vaccine mandates, but there have been no serious discussions about the issue since the November special session.

Cox doesn’t see the need for the Legislature to take any further action on vaccines and would oppose those efforts should they bubble up.

“We need to come together now and take the animosity out of the room. I feel comfortable with where we are right now,” Cox said.

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