SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Gov. Gary Herbert approved requests from Salt Lake and Summit counties to mandate mask-wearing in public spaces on Thursday.
Herbert had deferred action on the request from Salt Lake County until at least Friday, according to Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson's office. But in a rapid-fire turn of events, the governor's office confirmed that Herbert was approving the county's proposal Thursday night.
"Notifications are in the process of being made to the two requesting jurisdictions that they may implement a face-covering requirement," Gen. Jefferson Burton, interim director of the Utah Department of Health, told KSL. "Governor Herbert has approved their requests."
"I'm thankful to (Gov. Herbert) for his decision today," Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said on Twitter. "Masks are a key to turning the rising number of COVID cases around. Protect yourself, your loved ones and your communities by wearing one."
Wilson had issued another plea Thursday evening calling for all citizens to wear a mask when interacting in a public setting, such as doing business, shopping, or in situations where social distancing isn't possible.
Earlier Thursday, Summit County also requested that the state allow it to mandate mask-wearing in public spaces. A letter from county officials to Burton said the county is clearly "heading the wrong direction since moving to Yellow." The data "may not be as dire at this moment as some surrounding jurisdictions," the officials wrote, but "all the trends are unfavorable."
"We strongly believe our primary hope in adverting a future business shutdown is through this proposed mandatory mask measure," they said.
Wilson sent a letter to Herbert on June 23 to ask for a countywide requirement of mask-wearing, citing her deep concern with Utah's "dramatic" spike in coronavirus cases.
"I think it’s important that everyone wear a face mask," Wilson said in a video posted on her Twitter account Thursday before Herbert's announcement, pointing to evidence that masks can save lives. "We have asked, we have educated, we have reached out; that work has been done, and we’re not seeing the compliance at the level that we need.
"Therefore, I think it’s time that we act as government and make it a requirement."
Masks will not be required for residents recreating outdoors under the proposal, but Wilson encouraged recreational patrons to consider taking a mask with them — not necessarily wearing it — in the event of close public interactions on trails and so forth.
"When you interact with others in a public setting — should the governor say yes, and I am hopeful — a face mask should be required," she said Thursday.
Wilson made the formal request this week amid a spike in COVID-19 cases throughout the Wasatch Front. But local leaders must request permission from the state to issue more stringent public health guidelines.
She pointed to public data regarding the spread of COVID-19, showing that Utah's case count has grown by 40% since the beginning of the month. On June 1, the state registered 5,915 cases and reported 9,837 on Thursday.
Utah state epidemiologist Angela Dunn has said that no single outbreak nor an increase in testing can account for the rise in cases. She has also called Utah's spike concerning, stating that it could overwhelm medical resources and hospitals by the end of the summer.
Herbert said during a news conference Wednesday that he anticipated that he would grant the request.
"I’m a local-control person," Herbert said. "I believe that those closest to the people are in that local government arena and know what’s best for their community-at-large."
On Wednesday, the governor mandated wearing masks at Utah-owned facilities like liquor stores and the DMV.
Wilson said this week that the requirement would be enforced with warnings at first and then with fines, but not with arrests.
Contributing: Carter Williams, KSL.com