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Utah legislators, Gov. Cox may form group to address limited hospital space, health care worker shortages

House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, speaks during a press conference in Salt Lake City on Feb. 22. Wilson and the House Majority Caucus met with Utah Gov. Spencer Cox Wednesday to discuss forming a working group to address COVID-19 pandemic issues of limited hospital space and health care worker shortages.

House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, speaks during a press conference in Salt Lake City on Feb. 22. Wilson and the House Majority Caucus met with Utah Gov. Spencer Cox Wednesday to discuss forming a working group to address COVID-19 pandemic issues of limited hospital space and health care worker shortages. (Annie Barker, Deseret News)



SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Gov. Spencer Cox didn't request a statewide mask mandate for K-12 schools in a meeting with Republican state legislators Wednesday.

But he did ask that legislators form a working group to address concerns over limited hospital capacity and shortages of healthcare personnel, according to House Speaker Brad Wilson.

"Members of our caucus are committed to working with the administration to find solutions," Wilson said in a statement issued Wednesday evening.

Utah state health officials confirmed 1,685 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, including 411 in schoolchildren. One top health official said earlier this week that schoolchildren are 3.5 times more likely to get the disease now than they were at the beginning of last school year.

And for the first time since the pandemic began, Utah completely ran out of intensive care unit beds last week. There were zero ICU beds available in the state last Friday, Cox said.

Cox and his staff met with members of the House Majority Caucus on Wednesday for what Wilson called a "robust discussion." A legislative working group would collaborate with the executive branch to address those issues, he added.

Caucus members believe a statewide mask mandate isn't needed, Wilson said.

"Based on feedback from superintendents during a meeting last week, we remain confident that local health and county officials are the appropriate decision-makers with respect to this issue," he said.

Even though the legislature passed a bill earlier this year that prohibited Cox from instituting statewide mask mandates, Wilson said legislators didn't ban masks or mandates.

"Conversely, we have established policies empowering local health departments to coordinate with county governments to address their respective needs — including the needs of the schools — based on changing conditions," he said.

Wednesday, caucus members suggested some other measures that could be taken to protect Utahns during the pandemic, Wilson said.

Information about conditions in a child's school should be delivered directly to parents so they can make informed decisions. The caucus also suggested adding emphasis on vaccinating the 12-18 age group across Utah, which would reduce the spread of COVID-19 in schools, Wilson's statement said.

People should meet with their medical providers to talk about the benefits of vaccines if they haven't been vaccinated already, Wilson said. He urged Utahns to do their part to reduce the burden on the state's health care system.

"We recognize the pressure this pandemic has placed on our health care workers over the past 18 months and sincerely thank them for their dedicated service," Wilson said. "Vaccination remains the most effective way to protect yourself and your loved ones."

Cox's office did not immediately return KSL.com's request for comment on the caucus meeting Wednesday evening.

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