SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Gov. Gary Herbert didn’t issue an executive order to require Utahns to wear masks or face-coverings to halt or slow the spread of COVID-19 during Wednesday's weekly media briefing.
But he’s hardly been silent on the issue, speaking and tweeting and offering multiple public-service announcements calling for Utahns to wear a face-covering in public, especially when social distancing cannot be practiced.
He would prefer that people at all levels — of civic, government and community — use their voices and encourage their patrons to practice good hygiene for containing the virus’ spread, including wearing masks in public, practicing social distancing and washing hands regularly.
“If you love your neighbor, you probably ought to do what you can to protect them,” said Herbert, speaking during a press conference Wednesday after 484 new cases of the novel coronavirus were reported. “Wearing a mask is good protection.”
On Wednesday, 28 leaders from most of Utah’s faith communities called for all Utahns to use face coverings to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
“Over the last several weeks, we have seen alarming increases in COVID-19 infection rates in the state of Utah,” the joint statement read. “The state epidemiologist has identified the lack of masks and social distancing as key factors responsible for the increase.
“As faith leaders, many of us have seen the effects of this virus on vulnerable persons in our congregations. COVID-19 has caused so many disruptions in people’s lives including mental, physical and financial stress.”
The leaders, most of which came from the Christian community but also included representatives from Buddhism, Islam and Judaism, paraphrased Biblical text from the New Testament to “love God” and “love thy neighbor as thyself” in their call to action.
“We, the under-signed Faith Community Leaders, appeal to people of faith all over the state to wear masks and practice physical distancing, sacrificing a small measure of comfort for the sake of saving lives,” the statement continued. “We recall that the greatest commandment is to love God, and the second is like unto it, to love one’s neighbor as oneself. One cannot claim to love one’s neighbor while deliberately putting them at risk.
“We pray for the end of this devastating pandemic. However, the reality is that our actions must accompany those prayers. Please join us in continuing to take action to prevent the further spread of the pandemic by wearing masks in public and maintaining physical distancing.”
The statement comes a week after after several Utah faith leaders joined together for a video urging social distancing standards, mask-wearing and other hygiene precautions to stem the spread of COVID-19. The video also includes a separate translation in Spanish, likely because of the numerous Latinos of faith in Utah.
Herbert added that Utah’s minority communities are being particularly affected by the spread of the virus. Hispanic and Latino populations make up just 13-14% of Utah’s population, the governor said, but the coronavirus pandemic has disproportionately affected that community.
With that in mind, the governor will soon host an all-Spanish news conference to address several concerns particular to Latinos in Utah. Spanish is the second-most spoken language in Utah, according to the Utah Department of Health.
Utah’s overall mortality rate due to the virus is lower than most states, but Herbert admitted there is still work to be done as the state continues to see an overall spike in cases.
“What we’ve done, though imperfect, by comparison is pretty good,” he said.
Here are the 28 faith leaders who signed the statement:
- Rev. Curtis Price, First Baptist Church SLC
- Rev. Monica Dobbins, First Unitarian Church
- Rev. Fred Smullin, Morgan Valley Church
- Rev. David Nichols, Mount Tabor Lutheran Church SLC
- Elder Randy D. Funk, First Counselor, Utah Area Presidency, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
- Bishop Oscar Solis, Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake
- Bishop Scott Hayashi, Episcopal Diocese of Utah
- Rev. Greg Johnson, Executive Director, Standing Together (100 Evangelical Utah Churches)
- Rev. Charles Robinson, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church Park City
- Joelle Wight Seventy, Community of Christ Church
- Rev. Russell Butler, Christ United Methodist Church SLC
- Rev. Mary Janda, Episcopal Priest (Retired)
- Rev. Jerry Hirano, Salt Lake Buddhist Temple
- Anna Zumwalt, Zen Priest
- Rev. Steve Klemz, Zion’s Evangelical Lutheran Church
- Rev. Monica Hall, Trinity Presbyterian Church Ogden
- Rev. Marijke Rossi, Holladay United Church of Christ
- Rev. Tom Goldsmith, First Unitarian Church
- Imam Yasir Butt, Islamic Society of Greater Salt Lake
- Rev. Shesh Tipton, Holladay United Church of Christ
- Rabbi Sam Spector, Congregation Kol Ami
- Rabbi Benny Zippel, Chabad Lubavitch of Utah
- Rabbi Avremi Zippel, Chabad Lubavitch of Utah
- Pamela Atkinson, Elder, First Presbyterian Church
- Rev. Scott Dalgarno, Wasatch Presbyterian Church
- Josie Stone, Chairperson, Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable
- Rev. Steve Aeschbacher, First Presbyterian Church
- Rev. Trace Browning, All Saints Episcopal Church
Herbert said he will meet Thursday with leaders from the COVID-19 Unified Command and others in Salt Lake County about a proposal to require residents of that county to wear face-coverings in public. He added that he’s “a local-control person” and expects to lean heavily on the guidance and proposal of county leaders in their request — especially with something he has personally viewed as necessary like wearing a mask.
“The wearing of a face mask is a very effective and low-cost way to prevent the spread of the disease,” Herbert said.
“A lot of these issues … are mostly based on common sense,” he added. “We don’t need medical studies to verify that this is the right thing to do.”
But the best enforcement will come from local enforcement, he said — at home, in our neighborhoods, in our communities, and in our churches.