Statewide mask mandate goes into effect amid virus surge

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert gives a thumbs up as he walks through the Capitol rotunda to a COVID-19 briefing Monday, Nov. 9, 2020, in Salt Lake City. Herbert declared a state of emergency Sunday night, Nov. 8 and ordered a statewide mask mandate in an attempt to stem a surge in coronavirus patient hospitalizations that is testing the state's hospital capacity. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

During a press conference Thursday, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert outlined guidelines and recommendations for Utahns planning on gathering over the Thanksgiving weekend, including recommending that Thanksgiving celebrations be limited to individuals within the same household.

That limit on holiday gatherings will not be required, however, as Herbert announced he will not extend the state public health order requiring all informal social gathering to be restricted to households, which is set to expire Monday.

“We’re taking that out of the order,” Herbert said during a press conference Thursday. “What you in the confines of your own home is going to be up to you, but we also are giving strong recommendations of how you can conduct that in a safe environment.”

The “COVID-19 Holiday Safety Tips” include limiting the number of guests and encouraging virtual participation, preparing seating arrangements to allow for physical distancing, planning shorter gatherings, asking guests to physically distance and wear masks, improving ventilation indoors and gathering outside when possible and keeping “a guest list with contact information in case anyone needs to be notified of an exposure to a positive case within your group.”

The governor also gave recommendations for food preparation, including that only one person prepare and serve the food and wear a mask while doing so.

“Avoid potluck types of dinners, which is I know kind of a normal thing for Thanksgiving, but this is not a normal Thanksgiving time,” he said. “We’re trying to … make sure you have an enjoyable Thanksgiving, share with family and friends as you can, but limit the size and follow these recommendations.”

“I know it’s inconvenient and it’s hard sometimes to be extra cautious,” Herbert added. “It’s not the norm; it’s what we need to get through this troubled time and get into 2021.”

The recommendations were made as Utah continues to see a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations statewide. On Thursday, the Utah Department of Health reported 3,968 new cases statewide and 18 deaths, including 964 new cases in Utah County.

Herbert likened bringing guests over for a party during the current coronavirus surge to smoking tobacco in your home.

“(Smoking tobacco is) not only hazardous to your health, but it’s hazardous to the people around you’s health with secondhand smoke, where you do what you want but that’s not the good counsel and recommendations from the health care experts,” the governor said. “Well, this is a similar thing.”

When asked whether he believed Utahns would follow the guidelines, Herbert said he thought most would, noting that the recommendations are based on “the advice and counsel of our medical experts.”

“I’m just kind of the spokesperson for the best minds and best ideas and thinking that we have in the state of Utah of how we navigate this coronavirus,” he said.

Other guidelines for the upcoming holiday weekend include avoiding self-serve food and drink options, using disposable and single-time items, limiting the number of people in the kitchen area and staying home as much as possible after the gathering.

More information about the state’s Thanksgiving tips and guidelines are available online at http://coronavirus.utah.gov/holidays.

Connor Richards covers government, the environment and south Utah County for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at crichards@heraldextra.com and 801-344-2599.

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