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Governor Cox addresses Critical Race Theory, drought, face masks, and vaccinations

Gov. Spencer Cox during a weekly COVID-19 update.

SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Spencer Cox discussed Utah’s vaccination rates, along with legislation brought forth during a special session Wednesday, including Critical Race Theory being taught and mask mandates in schools, during his monthly KUED news conference Thursday. 

On COVID-19 vaccines 

With 35% of the Utahns fully vaccinated, and thousands of doses being administered every day, Cox says he’s not worried the state is moving too quickly with lowering pandemic restrictions. 

“We are absolutely trending in the right direction, we are excited to get things back to normal,” he said.

Cox noted Utah’s COVID-19 numbers are the lowest they’ve been since last June. 

On Thursday, the Utah Department of Health reported 266 positive cases of COVID-19; the state averages 291 new cases per day. 

He also mentioned the new CDC guidelines could not be more clear about vaccinations and protections right now.

In fact, Cox said more Utahns actually went in to get inoculated after the CDC announced fully vaccinated individuals can ditch their masks. 

“It’s amazing to me that the people who said trust the science, are now not trusting the science,” said Cox, who pointed out that if you are vaccinated, you are protected, even if the person next to you did not get the shot.

Additionally, Cox says we’re at the stage in the pandemic where people need to prioritize self-care. He noted how great it felt to attend a packed show at Hale Centre Theatre.

“We are wired for connection, and now we get to connect again. That’s healthy for our souls, and it’s healthy for our country,” he said.

Face masks in schools

One of the issues tackled during the special session was whether masks can be required in public schools come the fall. Utah lawmakers passed a bill Wednesday banning public schools from requiring the use of masks in the fall. 

Cox intends to sign the bill into law. He has said all along that kids will not be wearing masks in the fall.

The decision to sign the measure, according to Cox, comes as the spread of the virus continues to decline. Additionally, people ages 12 and up have the opportunity to get the vaccine. That means elementary school-aged children are the only people who cannot yet get the shot, and he says transmission among that population is extremely low. 

Additionally, Cox said many young kids need to see faces for their language development in particular, and the CDC has pointed that out as well. Therefore, removing mandated masks in schools would better assist the educational progression of Utah’s youth. 

Cox on Critical Race Theory

During the news conference, Cox was asked about the Utah legislature’s resolution on Critical Race Theory approved in Wednesday’s special session. Republicans approved the measure without support from Democrats, who walked out of the session in protest. 

The governor says he wrote a long letter to lawmakers, and in the end, they actually did what he asked — to open the door for more discussion and to allow the state school board and higher education officials be a part of that. 

“Even the sponsor of the bill said he didn’t know what Critical Race Theory was, and he tried to research it. But there was a lot of confusion about what it was, or where it was being taught,” he said.

Additionally, Cox said Utah schools should teach curriculum but not avoid hard conversations about history.

“We live in the greatest nation in the world, and we have so much to be proud of. We have to teach those things. We’ve also made some serious mistakes in our past. We shouldn’t shy away from those things,” he said.

No Utah K-12 school currently teaches Critical Race Theory, and to Cox, it does not belong there. But different theories and ideas should be part of the higher education experience, he said.

Meanwhile, he mentioned Utahns might be better off if they stop watching cable news: “I’m eight years sober, and it’s been one of the best things that I’ve ever done. I’d just encourage people to turn that off and talk to real people about the issues, not listening to the talking heads who make their money by making you outraged.”

All about the drought

It’s no secret — Utah is experiencing an extreme drought. The governor has even issued a state of emergency declaring the problem. 

“It’s really bad. It’s as bad as it has been. We need everyone in the state to understand we are heading into one of the worst drought and fire seasons we’ve seen,” said Cox. 

Reporters asked him if he sees mandatory water restrictions coming this summer during the drought. The answer: yes, but by the local water district, because they monitor what is available in different parts of the state.

Cox said residents can help the situation by taking personal responsibility and cutting back on their water usage. 

He says cities and towns may add fireworks restrictions in July, depending on the rain situation. 

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