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Steve Griffin, KSL, File

Utah Hospital Association calls for statewide mask rule; Herbert expected to make decision this week

By Lauren Bennett, KSL.com | Updated - Jul. 7, 2020 at 9:15 p.m. | Posted - Jul. 7, 2020 at 8:36 p.m.



SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Hospital Association called on Utah Gov. Gary Herbert to implement a statewide mandatory mask order on Tuesday.

The letter, signed by UHA President and CEO Greg Bell, was also sent to House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, and Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton. It asked leaders to “adopt a rule requiring Utahns to wear masks.”

Bell, who previously served as Herbert's lieutenant governor, commended state leaders for their response to the novel coronavirus pandemic, saying the association “deeply appreciates” their leadership and “steady guidance.”

However, Bell pointed out the state’s reopened economy has led to a “serious increase of infection.”

“That increase is bringing impacts on hospitals and health care professionals which are unsustainable,” Bell wrote. “Although average length of hospital stay and the mortality rate are improving, we are alarmed at the caseload we project in the coming weeks and months.”

The hospital association was founded in 1920 and is made up of "63 acute and specialty hospitals and 10 health systems or management companies involved in providing healthcare services to the citizens of Utah and neighboring states," according to its website.

Herbert, who is expected to make a decision on whether or not to implement a mandatory mask order this week, has previously called on Utahns to “do better,” when it comes to wearing face masks.

Herbert met with legislative leadership on Tuesday to discuss a mask mandate and is expected to meet with Utah’s COVID-19 Unified Command later this week, the governor’s office confirmed.

Additionally, the Salt Lake Chamber along with more than 130 businesses — including the Utah Hospital Association — called on the governor to implement a mandatory mask order in areas with higher risk for COVID-19 transmission as well.

State epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn warned officials in a June memo the state was reaching a critical point after a surge in positive cases. She warned another shutdown might be necessary to slow the spread of the virus.

Salt Lake and Summit Counties are the only areas in the state with a mandated face covering order.

Salt Lake County has the highest number of cases at 49.9% of the state’s total, according to Tuesday data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Utah County has the second highest at 18.2% followed by Cache County’s 6%, Davis County’s 5.7%, Washington County’s 5.3% and Summit County’s 4.9%.

As of Tuesday, Utah had 26,033 total confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 1,653 total hospitalizations and 194 total deaths from the disease.

So far, 10 rural counties in Utah have transitioned to the green phase of the state’s COVID-19 response plan.

Studies have found that wearing a face mask which covers the nose and mouth significantly reduces viral transmission and experts have continually urged the public to wear them.

Two weeks ago, the hospital association launched its #MaskUpUtah campaign aimed at promoting mask-wearing among residents.

“We had hoped that with time, a large enough segment of our society would begin wearing masks,” Bell wrote in the letter. “Unfortunately, it is not happening quickly enough.”

Bell's letter in full reads:

"Dear Governor Herbert, President Adams and Speaker Wilson, The Utah Hospital Association deeply appreciates each of you for your leadership and concern for the citizens of the State of Utah during the long months of the COVID pandemic. Thank you for your steady guidance.

"As Utah has re-opened our economy, we have been pleased to see the resurgence of economic activity and return of many normal activities. Unfortunately, we have also seen a serious increase of infection. That increase is bringing impacts on hospitals and health care professionals which are unsustainable. Although average length of hospital stay and the mortality rate are improving, we are alarmed at the caseload we project in the coming weeks and months.

"Two weeks ago today, Utah’s hospitals launched #MaskUpUtah to promote wearing masks among Utahns. We had hoped that with time, a large enough segment of our society would begin wearing masks. Unfortunately, it is not happening quickly enough.

"Thus, we hereby petition the Governor to adopt a rule requiring Utahns to wear masks. We note the following in support of this request:

"1. A report from Goldman Sachs’s Chief Economist (see the link below in both written and video format) finds that masking 90% of people can reduce an R-naught infection rate of 1.6% to .6% over time. Masking has been the weapon of choice for successfully combatting and subduing the spread of COVID in east Asia and other places. The positive correlation between 90% of citizens wearing masks and the reduction of infection is beyond question. The Goldman report says, “...we estimate that a national mandate could cut the national average growth rate of infections by nearly 1.0pp to 0.6-0.7%.” “Thus, the upshot of our analysis is that a national face mask mandate could potentially substitute for renewed lockdowns that would otherwise subtract nearly 5% from GDP.” [Emphasis added.]

"2. The Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce has made a similar request and has urged its member businesses to request of the Governor that wearing masks be mandatory. The Chamber stated “Public health and economic health are inseparably connected, not competing alternatives, and both are required to sustain healthy and economically viable families, businesses, and communities. To this end, we have drafted a statement calling upon state leaders to update health guidelines for the yellow, orange and red risk levels, to include the requirement to wear a mask in public places when social distancing is not feasible.”

"3. The HERO project recently found through 8,500 randomly selected Utahns’ antibody tests, that we have an asymptomatic incidence rate of only 2.4 for each confirmed COVID case. This is vastly less than estimates of there being unconfirmed cases of 10 to 25 times the known number of infected. This means that we are a long, long way from herd immunity.

"4. Last week, Republican Governor Greg Abbot of Texas ordered the wearing of masks in the face of the dramatic increase in Texas’ infection rate."

UTAH HOSPITAL ASSOCIATION Greg Bell President and CEO

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