OGDEN — In these days of the coronavirus, Weber County Commissioner Jim Harvey believes in the importance of masks.
“I’m a mask-wearer,” he said. “I believe in it and it’s not terribly inconvenient for me. It’s just a mask.”
With the COVID-19 case count in Weber County and the rest of Utah continuing its upward trajectory, a cross-section of leaders here has launched a messaging campaign to encourage mask use, Mask Up Weber. They’re not mandating masks, a controversial proposition for some. Rather, they’re appealing to the public to make the call on their own as a safeguard against the spread of COVID-19 and, accordingly, as a way to get the economy back on track.
“We want people to make the decision and not have government force them,” Harvey said.
A mask mandate has been discussed said Brian Bennion, executive director of the Weber-Morgan Health Department, which will spearhead the initiative. But such a requirement would end at the county line, tempering its potential usefulness, “and we feel this has stronger local appeal,” he said.
The effort will cost some $30,000 to $50,000 and be paid for with funds from the CARES Act, the $2 trillion federal relief act meant to counter the hit of COVID-19, according to Harvey. The publicity campaign employs the catchphrase “It Starts with a Mask” and the social media hashtag #MaskUpWeber, a variation of the #MaskUpUtah campaign launched by the Utah Hospital Association to encourage mask use.
In a press release, a range of officials acknowledged some of the drawbacks and backlash to mask use but emphasized the import of face coverings in helping halt COVID-19’s spread. Messaging will be conducted via billboards, radio, social media, news outlets and more.
“When I think about the discomfort of wearing a mask, it doesn’t even compare to the discomfort of being in the hospital on a ventilator with tubes in our bodies,” said Mike Clark, administrator of McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden.
Harvey hinted at criticism from some that calls to use masks represent an infringement on their personal liberties. “In America, everyone gets to choose, including the public. We hope they will make the decision to support the health of the community and mask up,” he said.
Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell, meantime, touted mask use as a show of “your compassion and caring of your neighbors and friends in our community.”
Davis County officials put out a similar call encouraging mask use and other safeguards against COVID-19 at a press conference last Friday. Davis County Health Department Executive Director Brian Hatch noted the rising caseload. “We’re at a critical time in Davis County,” he said, though numbers haven’t yet reached the “alarming” level.
The messaging in the Weber-Morgan Health Department campaign highlights the role mask use can have in fighting the spread of COVID-19, thereby allowing a return to a semblance of normalcy. The Dicio Group, which handles media relations for Weber County, has aided in the initiative.
“Want a healthy economy? It starts with a mask,” reads one message. “Miss sports? It starts with a mask,” reads another.
The campaign is to last for 30 days, at least for now. “The length and details are not final as we will take into consideration things such as cases, hospitalizations, what the state campaign looks like and how we can speak to our residents in a way that none of these other campaigns do,” Bennion said.
‘A WELCOMED SIGHT’Though the COVID-19 caseload has increased dramatically in recent weeks in Weber and Davis counties, the latest figures seem to reflect an easing of things. The Utah Department of Health reported 35,012 confirmed cases statewide as of Tuesday, with 251 deaths.
The number of new cases in the week ending July 18 totaled 400 in Weber and Morgan counties, slightly lower than the 408 new cases registered the week before. “We’re encouraged to see two weeks fall within the same range,” Bennion said, but he knows the case count will likely increase.
Davis County saw 440 new cases for the week ending July 18, up slightly from 436 the week before. But Trevor Warner, the Davis County Health Department, said that doesn’t mean it’s time to celebrate.
“It’s a welcomed sight to see the weekly caseload didn’t double itself as it has in previous weeks. We are still in a week-by-week situation here, and it’s just too early to tell where the case counts are going to go moving forward,” he said.