Gov. Gary Herbert speaks during a briefing about the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020.
SALT LAKE CITY — Officials released a new challenge to lower the spread of COVID-19 throughout the state as guidelines for reopening schools and mandating face coverings were also modified. The update came Thursday afternoon, during a weekly press conference from the state capitol.
Gov. Gary Herbert continued to thank citizens for helping the state reach his previous goal of lowering the rolling seven-day average to below 500 cases a day by Aug. 1. He said, he isn’t ready to “spike the football yet” and there is still work to be done.
“I would like to set a new goal, to have [Utah’s] cases below 400 by Sept. 1 and have the rolling seven-day average of 400 cases or less by then,” explained Herbert. “I think if we work together, we can do this. We need to do it and I think it is a new challenge, goal and opportunity, to continue to dampen the spread of the coronavirus.”
Herbert attributed a portion of the recent case decline to the wearing of face masks. He said observations suggest that around 70 percent of the state are wearing face coverings when they can’t social distance.
Herbert, who has continued to push back against a statewide face mask mandate, said officials are making it easier for local health districts to implement local mandates. The process, which Logan City recently completed, eliminates community leaders from having to contact state officials to try and request permission to implement a face covering mandate.
“If you want to opt into that program, all you need to do is notify us. It will be easier and more streamlined. Right now, we have three counties and a couple cities that have done it and others are thinking about it.”
Thursday’s press conference occurred as officials changed the “modified quarantine” recommendation, which allowed a student or teacher who was exposed to COVID-19 to go to school as long as they didn’t have symptoms. If they began to show symptoms, they would then need to get tested and quarantine.
Utah Epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn said officials removed the recommendation after receiving feedback from parents and school officials. Instead, students and teachers will be recommended to follow standard quarantine practices and procedures.
“This means that anytime somebody has close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19,” explained Dunn, “meaning they have been within six-feet for more than 15-minutes or more with a confirmed case, that person should spend their entire 14-day quarantine period at home, not attend school and not participate in extracurricular activities.”
The school recommendations released last week advised that quarantining is for people who may have been exposed to the virus, but aren’t sick yet. Isolation is for people who are sick or who have symptoms. Students, teachers, and employees should not go to school until the health department has said they are done with isolation.
Dunn said modified quarantining is a process the state advised being used for employees at essential industries. She explained though that many school districts expressed concern for not having a stricter recommendation.
“Everybody wants to make sure that teachers, parents, and students feel safe and are safe as they return to school. The prevention measures we all take; wearing face masks, practicing physical distancing, staying home when we’re ill and using good hand hygiene, will help us open up schools safely and keep them open.”
Herbert also announced that each school district will receive a packet of personal protective equipment (PPE) for each teacher and employee. The packet will include five K-N95 masks and two face shields.