Mask mandate press conference

In this screenshot taken from video, Intermountain Healthcare officials Mark Briesacher, left, and Edward Stenehjem, right, are shown Friday, July 10, 2020, during a virtual press conference in which Utah's medical and hospital leaders called on Gov. Gary Herbert to issue a statewide mask mandate in light of surging COVID-19 cases. 

Utah’s hospital and medical leaders called on Gov. Gary Herbert to issue a statewide mask mandate during a video conference held Friday.

The medical leaders, from Intermountain Healthcare, MountainStar Health, University of Utah Health and Steward Health Care, also issued a dire warning to the state government and the public that if the current surge of cases continues, that hospitals will soon be overrun with patients.

Less than an hour after the press conference ended, the Utah Department of Health reported another single-day high in COVID-19 cases in Utah, with 867 positive results and an 11.9% positive test rate.

“It feels like we’re headed for a disaster,” said Arlen Jarrett, chief medical officer at Steward, which operates two facilities in Layton, one in West Point and another in Clinton.

According to UDOH data updated on Friday, 66.2% of all intensive care beds at Utah hospitals are occupied and 55.6% of non-ICU beds are occupied.

Twenty-six people are currently hospitalized in the Weber-Morgan Health Department jurisdiction, according to data published on the health department’s website.

Current hospitalization is unavailable for Davis County; however, 19 people have been admitted to Davis County hospitals in the last two weeks.

Intermountain chief physician Mark Briesacher said the ICU occupancy rate in the Intermountain network, which includes Ogden’s McKay-Dee Hospital and Layton Hospital, is upwards of 70%, though an officially published number wasn’t available.

On Thursday, Herbert declined to issue a mask mandate, but did mandate masks for all K-12 school teachers and students when inside school buildings.

Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson (R-Kaysville) and Senate President Stuart Adams (R-Layton) both came out earlier this week against a mask mandate.

“Mandating masks raises questions of enforcement and punishment. As legislators, we are working to strike a balance between policies that protect public health and citizens’ rights,” read part of a statement Adams released on Wednesday.

Tom Miller, chief medical officer at the University of Utah Hospital, said the K-12 mask mandate falls short and August is too late to implement some sort of mandate.

“Every day that we delay masking as a mandate, it takes us one day further away from our goals,” Miller said.

Edward Stenehjem, an infectious disease specialist with Intermountain, said the results of a mask mandate would begin to show up two weeks after implementation.

Salt Lake County issued a mask order on June 26 and in the two weeks since issuing the order, the amount of cases has appeared to plateau.

The week of June 26 to July 2 saw an average of 262.3 daily cases, while the week of July 2-9 saw an average of 233.3, though some of the lower numbers earlier in the week are a result of a lag time from the July 4 holiday weekend.

Salt Lake County’s mask order is inconclusive so far, but it’s in place until at least Aug. 20.

The medical leaders indicated their hospitals are preparing for an expected surge in patients over the coming weeks as a result of increasing cases. They said that hospital surges tend to lag behind case counts by a couple of weeks.

The same group of medical leaders came out last month with the #MaskUpUtah initiative, encouraging people to wear masks. So far, that hasn’t had the desired results, they said.

“I hope we take a much stronger status around masking,” said Mike Baumann, chief medical officer at MountainStar, which operates Ogden Regional Medical Center and Brigham City Community Hospital.

You can reach reporter Patrick Carr via email at pcarr@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter @patrickcarr_ and on Facebook at facebook.com/patrickcarr17/.

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