OGDEN — Beginning Wednesday, the Utah Transit Authority will require all employees and passengers to wear masks while riding any of the agency’s transit services.
UTA spokesman Carl Arky said the move is being made in response to an uptick of COVID-19 cases being seen in several counties across the state.
The agency began mandating that riders, operators and employees in Salt Lake County wear face masks on Saturday, complying with a Salt Lake County health order that requires face coverings to be worn in all public spaces.
But Arky said virus surges in areas outside of Salt Lake County have prompted the UTA to implement the rule systemwide.
The Weber-Morgan Health Department reported 197 new coronavirus cases for the week ending last Saturday, up from 152 the week before, 121 the week ending June 13 and just 19 for the week ending May 2. Since June 6, the case count has more than doubled in the two-county area, from 398 to 894 as of Sunday.
The Davis County Health Department reported 250 new cases for the week, up from 203 the week before, 109 the week ending June 13 and just 26 for the week ending May 2. As in Weber and Morgan counties, the the case count has more than doubled since June 6, from 543 to 1,113.
Arky said UTA will provide employees and riders with face masks, which will be available for now at customer service locations, but the agency is working to make masks available on transit vehicles.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that people wear cloth face coverings in public settings and when around people outside of their household, especially when other social distancing measures can’t be practiced. The CDC says cloth face coverings are likely to reduce the spread of COVID-19 by acting as a simple barrier that prevents respiratory droplets from traveling into the air and onto other people. The CDC says coughs, sneezes and even someone raising their voice can cause respiratory droplets to become airborne. Children 2 and under should not wear masks, the CDC says.
Before the mask requirement, UTA says it has previously implemented multiple safety and disinfecting efforts since the onset of the pandemic, hoping to help slow the spread.
On April 5, UTA began scaling back service systemwide. For example, on buses, the agency reduced the frequency of service along specific routes, from once every 15 minutes to once every 30 minutes. Stops on weekday FrontRunner service went from every 30 minutes to every hour. Last week, the agency’s board approved a 90-day extension of the service modification, while UTA develops a systemwide “restoration plan,” according to UTA Chief Operations Officer Eddy Cummins.
In May, the agency created a six-member “recovery team,” tasked with increasing ridership, restoring financial stability and regaining community confidence — which all folds into the recovery plan Cummins mentioned. The team has been surveying employees, individual customers, local companies and government agencies that purchase a large number of transit passes for their workers. The team is working to pinpoint riders’ expectations in the face of the pandemic and find changes in their travel patterns. Service will be adjusted according to the study.
Cummins said the plan is expected to be finalized in August.
“This has been quite a unique circumstance,” said Beth Holbrook, a member of UTA’s Board of Trustees.
Standard-Examiner Tim Vandenack contributed to this report.