As Utah state leaders face pressure from some of the public to mandate the use of face coverings in public to stem the upward trend of positive COVID-19 cases, a group of Utah’s hospitals are taking things into their own hands to try convincing the public to wear masks.
The Utah Hospital Association announced the initiative, #MaskUpUtah, on Tuesday, which will continue through the summer months.
People will notice the #MaskUpUtah campaign on billboards, social media and website landing pages and hear about the campaign on radio and TV advertisements in the coming weeks.
“This has to be a non-governmental initiative; when government gets involved, it gets political. This is not a political issue. We can do this as a community,” said Greg Bell, CEO of the Utah Hospital Association, during a virtual press conference earlier this week.
The thrust of the campaign is to encourage people to wear a mask not for their own benefit, but to protect others. During Tuesday’s press conference, Bell pulled out a mask and said he’s wearing it for his family.
The ads will reflect a similar message, with people wearing masks that say “Mom,” “Dad” or “My children” written on them.
In the virtual event, Medical leaders from Intermountain Healthcare, MountainStar Healthcare, Steward Medical Group and University of Utah Health expressed worry about the rising tide of COVID-19 cases.
The medical leaders, reading mostly from prepared statements, implored the public to wear a mask and help case counts go down.
According to the Utah Department of Health, active COVID-19 cases have more than doubled in the past month, going from 3,206 active cases on May 23 to 8,287 active cases on June 23.
The rise coincides with Utah’s loosening of public restrictions over the past month.
According to a press release issued by Intermountain Healthcare, which operates Ogden’s McKay-Dee Hospital, those with reported cases typically reach the point of requiring hospitalization around seven to 10 days later.
The point of imposing social restrictions in the first place was to “flatten the curve” and not overwhelm healthcare systems, but according to Intermountain, current trends show a doubling in hospitalizations each week if the transmission rate is not reduced.
From June 8-23, total hospitalizations went from 124 to 167. As of Tuesday, June 23, 65.8% of the state’s intensive care unit beds were occupied and the average amount of new hospitalizations has steadily increased since the UDOH started tracking that data in March.
Edward Stenehjem, an infectious diseases doctor with Intermountain, said the time is now to correct the state’s course on COVID-19 cases.
“If we continue this trend and we do not abate the crisis that is going on now, we will reach (hospital) capacity in the coming weeks and we will no longer be able to care appropriately for patients with COVID-19 and those who seek care for other reasons,” he said on the virtual call.
One issue, according to Intermountain, is that many people spreading COVID-19 may have very mild or no symptoms and therefore they continue to go out and interact in public.
Masks have also become a polarizing subject, but Bell repeatedly spoke Tuesday about how mask use should be kept out of politics.
“This is a healthcare issue, this should not be a political issue,” he said.