Weber County masks

Shoppers enter Smith's wearing masks to help stop the spread of COVID-19 on Friday, June 12, 2020, in North Ogden.

As new COVID-19 cases keep piling up and the number of infected patients seeking hospitalization continues to rise, the push among some local leaders for use of face coverings is getting stronger.

Weber County government now requires use of masks for everyone entering their buildings, both employees and the public. Similarly, the county last week reached out to Weber County cities, encouraging similar policies, and sent a letter to religious leaders, asking faith-based groups to be “mindful” of the import of mask use.

“We just need to be diligent, more diligent,” said Weber County Emergency Management Director Lance Peterson, who’s helped get the word out. Masks shouldn’t be used only when going to the stores, he said, but also at gatherings with friends and family, among other activities.

Both Peterson and Weber County Commissioner Gage Froerer say a messaging campaign is tentatively planned to encourage mask use, with more details possibly to be released this week. A mandatory mask policy isn’t in the works given likely roadblocks and complications in enforcing such change, Froerer said. Rather, the aim would be to persuade the public about the import of masks, leaving it to individuals to make the choice.

“So it really has to be a personal decision,” Froerer said.

The number of COVID-19 cases in Weber County has been spiking, as in the state as a whole, and the latest figures show the coronavirus danger in Weber County is hardly easing. Twenty-two COVID-19 patients are currently getting care at Weber County’s two hospitals, McKay-Dee Hospital and Ogden Regional Medical Center, which represents double the figure in early April, 11, according to Peterson.

“We’re not like Arizona yet. We still have some capability to surge,” Peterson said. Officials, though, are carefully watching the number of people needing hospitalization “because we don’t to get to that point where we overwhelm the system.”

The preliminary number of new COVID-19 cases in Weber and Morgan counties for the week ending July 11 reached 346, a reduction from the revised figure for the week ending July 4, 369, according to the Weber-Morgan Health Department. But the new number will likely change as more data trickles in, according to Lori Buttars, the department spokesperson, just as the count for the week ending July 4 rose from the preliminary figure of 305 to 369.

Overall in the two counties, the case count totaled 1,651 as of Sunday, more than triple the count as of June 7, when it numbered 520. Likewise, the number of new cases for the week ending July 11 reached 438 in Davis County, up from 304 the prior week. Davis County had registered a total of 1,909 cases and 96 were currently hospitalized there, as of the latest data.

“Our message to the public is still the same,” said Trevor Warner, spokesperson for the Davis County Health Department. “COVID-19 isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon, and that means everyone needs to follow the public health guidelines that have been put in place.”

Mask use, hand-washing, social distancing and staying home when sick are the key messages from health officials here, and prodding to encourage mask use is getting particular attention.

NO BACKLASH SO FARWeber County launched the policy on July 6 requiring the public to wear masks when visiting all county offices and employees to use masks when dealing with the public. Though mask use can be a touchy subject, the change hasn’t prompted backlash, at least at this stage, said Sarah Swan, director of human resources for Weber County. Some departments have masks to provide visitors who come in without face coverings, she said.

She isn’t sure if any cities have taken the county up on its suggestion to implement similar policies.

The Weber-Morgan Health Department letter to churches and other religious organizations, dated July 8, uses soft language in encouraging adherence to measures aimed at combating coronavirus. In fact, it’s more of a gentle nudge, pointing out the importance of mask use, social distancing, hand washing and more. “We encourage local congregations to continue taking the necessary steps to help curb the spread of the virus,” it reads, in part.

Gov. Gary Herbert announced a mandate last week on mask use in the state’s schools during the coming school year.

Jer Bates, the Ogden School District spokesperson, said a policy was already in the works requiring use of face coverings in schools when social distancing wasn’t possible. Ogden schools are to reopen on Aug. 20.

“We are trying to make our plan as robust as we can and preemptively answer as many of the ‘what if’ questions that might come up as possible,” Bates said.

Contact reporter Tim Vandenack at tvandenack@standard.net, follow him on Twitter at @timvandenack or like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/timvandenackreporter.

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