Why Salt Lake County health official wants you to mask up, without a mandate

Apr 7, 2021, 5:42 PM
salt lake county health director gary edwards does not think mask mandate is needed again yet...
(SLCO Health Department Director Gary Edwards speaking at a press conference regarding his decision not to recommend a mandate. Photo: Paul Nelson, KSL NewsRadio)
(SLCO Health Department Director Gary Edwards speaking at a press conference regarding his decision not to recommend a mandate. Photo: Paul Nelson, KSL NewsRadio)

SALT LAKE CITY – If the Salt Lake County Health Department wants you to keep wearing a mask to slow the spread of COVID-19, why isn’t Director Gary Edwards recommending a mandate?  Edwards explained why he isn’t recommending the order, and what it would take to get him to reconsider.

Related: Salt Lake County will NOT extend mask mandate, county officials say

Edwards: Public health orders should be rare

Issuing a public health order is no small task, according to Edwards.  During the nearly 30 years of service to the department before COVID-19, he has only issued one other order.  He says it happened roughly ten years ago regarding an environmental health issue.

“A public health order is rarely used,” Edwards says.  “It’s for imminent circumstances.”

Edwards says when the virus was first detected on American soil, the public was in imminent danger.  Masks and social distancing were literally the only methods of protection people had from the spread of COVID-19.  However, Edwards says the vaccines have changed that.

“Vaccination is what started bringing hope to people around the United States,” Edwards said. 

Salt Lake County and the mask mandate

Edwards believes the new daily case numbers have dropped enough, and the vaccination rates have risen high enough that the public is no longer in imminent danger.  He says over 80 percent of people in the highest risk group have been at least partially vaccinated, and he believes the vaccination efforts should be the county’s primary focus.

“Now, vaccination, not masks, is what will ultimately get us to the point of being able to declare this pandemic over,” he said.

However, Edwards says health workers will take a very close look at the rate of COVID-19 cases across the county and he may reconsider a mandate if one of the following things happen:

  • Salt Lake County experiences two consecutive weeks of an increase in cases of 10 percent or greater
  • County case rates reach 245 per 100,000 over the previous 14-day period
  • Total ICU utilization and COVID ICU utilization increase to 75 percent and 15 percent, respectively
  • Test positivity rate exceeds 7.5 percent (using the test over test method) for two consecutive weeks

Edwards says everyone should still use masks, especially if they’re unvaccinated or around people whose vaccination status is unknown.  As for Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall’s decision to implement a mandate within her city, Edwards says he has no problem with it.

“Any municipality, any business who wants to continue with that as a requirement, they have our full support,” he said.

How To Prevent the Spread of COVID-19 Coronavirus

COVID-19 coronavirus spreads person to person, similar to the common cold and the flu. So, to prevent it from spreading:

  • Wash hands frequently and thoroughly, with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds.
  • Don’t touch your face.
  • Wear a mask to protect yourself and others per CDC recommendations.
  • Keep children and those with compromised immune systems away from someone who is coughing or sneezing (in this instance, at least six feet).
  • If there is an outbreak near you, practice social distancing (stay at home, instead of going to the movies, sports events, or other activities).
  • Obtain a flu shot.
  • Seek out the COVID-19 vaccine.

Local resources

KSL Coronavirus Q&A 

Utah’s Coronavirus Information 

Utah State Board of Education

Utah Hospital Association

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Utah Coronavirus Information Line – 1-800-456-7707

National Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Commonly asked questions, World Health Organization

Cases in the United States

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Why Salt Lake County health official wants you to mask up, without a mandate