SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Hospital Association is calling on Gov. Gary Herbert to issue a statewide Utah mask mandate.
In a letter to the governor, Utah Senate President Stuart Adams, and Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson, UHA President and CEO Greg Bell says he appreciates the steps the state has taken during the COVID-19 pandemic, but worries about the new surge in cases.
“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,” he writes.
According to Bell, UHA launched its #MaskUpUtah campaign to encourage people across the state to wear a mask. But he worries it’s taking too long for enough people to start taking that preventative measure. That’s why he says his association is asking for an order from the governor.
“A report from Goldman Sachs’s Chief Economist finds that masking 90% of people can reduce an R-naught infection rate of 1.6% to .6% over time,” Bell writes, saying that if 90% of the population would wear a mask, the reduction of infections would drop dramatically.
“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.”
Bell also cites findings from the HERO project that tested a random sampling of more than 8,000 Utahn’s antibodies. It found an asymptomatic rate of 2.4 for each confirmed COVID case. Bell says that “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.”
Utah Mask Mandate, a way to prevent another shutdown
Bell tells KSL NewsRadio we need to intervene in order to prevent another shutdown of the economy.
“We only have a couple of tools in our toolbox, we can either shut the economy down, or we can have everyone wear a mask and socially distance.
“We cannot have 550 to 650 almost 700 [new] infections a day we can’t sustain that. As the pressure gets bigger and bigger and greater in our hospitals we’re going to have to make some uncomfortable decisions, and we want to avoid that.”
Bell says hospitals in Utah are doing well with their PPE; they have been able to re-establish their supply chains and stores with the help of the state. But he worries about how the latest spike could overtax local hospitals.
“There is an absolute limit. We can expand ICU beds and oxygen etc. But there are only so many skilled practitioners, intensivists, physicians, nurses and techs who are prepared to respond to the most serious cases.”
Bell says resources begin to get tapped when hospitals reach 85% of their ICU beds taken. He adds, at least one hospital in the UHA is already there.
“I think the business community [and] the medical community see [wearing masks] as was way to keep us safe [from] this infection rather than shutting our economy down. We just don’t want to do that again, and if we can mask, we can avoid that.”
Overstep of power?
Beyond the scope of those debating whether a mandate would be a good idea, are those questioning whether it’s even allowed.
Connor Boyack with the Libertas Institute joined KSL Newsradio Wednesday morning to share his concerns about the potential mandate.
“When you read the actual law of the powers that the governor has under emergency declaration, and so forth, he doesn’t have the authority to issue a statewide mask mandate,” Boyack explains. “The legislature has not given him that authority. [Instead,] he can order state officials and local officials to do things.”
In addition to questions of legality, he’s also wondering how such a mandate would be enforced.
“Are we going to throw them in jail like some states are doing with a misdemeanor?” he asks. “Now we’re going to put people in jail just because they’re not wearing a mask?”
After meeting with legislative leaders Tuesday and state health officials Wednesday, an announcement regarding Herbert’s decision is expected soon.
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