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FILE (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
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Gov. Herbert Issues New COVID-19 Challenge, Streamlines Local Mandates, Secures School PPE

FILE (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Gov. Gary Herbert admitted he was skeptical Utah could meet the challenge he laid down on July 9 for the state to lower its seven-day rolling average of new COVID-19 cases to 500 or fewer by August first.

However, Utah rose to the challenge. On July 31, Utah’s seven day rolling average of new coronavirus cases was down to 457. As of Thursday, the seven-day rolling average was 449.

Gov. Herbert holds weekly COVID-19 update

Gov. Herbert and Dr. Dunn hold weekly COVID-19 update as families prepare to send students and teachers back to school.

Posted by KSL 5 TV on Thursday, August 6, 2020

“Now a lot of people thought that would be impossible. I was one of those (who was a) little dubious we could actually do that,” Herbert said. “We have something to celebrate, at least in our efforts to work together to bring down that rolling average, and it’s continued to drop since August the first.”

“I’m not ready to spike the football by any means. We still have a lot of tough sledding ahead of us and more work yet to be done,” Herbert said.

Herbert issued another challenge at Thursday’s weekly COVID-19 briefing.

“I’d like to, in fact, set a new goal now,” he said. “It would be to have our cases below 400 by September the 1st, and have a rolling day seven-day average of 400 cases or less by Sept. 1.”

Herbert said common sense practices like social distancing, good hygiene and staying home when you don’t feel well are the best tools for lowering case counts.

“If you can’t do that, then absolutely you should be wearing a mask,” Herbert said.

Herbert said the Utah Department of Health is working with other states on a scientific study and poll to evaluate the percentage of people who are wearing a mask. “We find that 55% of the respondents say that they usually wear a mask, and 25% said that they always wear a mask when they cannot social distance.”

Along those lines, Herbert announced his administration is streamlining the process for local governments to issue new mandates in order to control the spread of the disease in their area.

Previously, local governments were required to ask the governor’s office for permission to mandate masks, as an example. Thursday’s announcement allows local governments to go ahead and make the changes they feel are necessary with the only requirement that they notify the administration of the change.

“I appreciate and believe in local control not only of our elected officials, but also for local health departments working in concert with our state health department. Those are the ones that should be making the policy,” Herbert said.

“We’re not requiring any school to open any in any particular certain way,” he added. “I want to make sure it’s clear that I have not ordered our schools to be open. That’s a local responsibility.”

Herbert said this change does not rule out the possibility for statewide mandates in the future.

State epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn addressed changes to the guidelines issued last week for safely getting students back to school. She said the state health department, Utah’s 13 local health districts and the Utah State Board of Education received a lot of input since releasing the manual last week. As a result, the state removed the recommendation that students and teachers be allowed to attend school while they’re on quarantine.

The state now recommends that students and teachers follow standard quarantine practices and procedures.

“This means that any time somebody has close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19, that means they’ve been within six feet for 15 minutes or more of a confirmed case, that person should spend their entire 14-day quarantine period at home, not at school and should not participate in extracurricular activities,” Dunn said.

“Everybody wants to make sure that teachers, parents and students feel safe and are safe as they return to school,” she said.

Herbert’s education adviser, Tami Pyfer, asked parents and teachers to be patient as students return to school.

“Please continue to provide your local charter and school board members with your input but also understand that if they make a decision that’s different than what you’ve proposed, it doesn’t mean that they’ve disregarded or have not heard your opinion.”

She added, “Realize that there are a lot of viewpoints that are being expressed at this time, that they are being asked to balance. We are certain that whatever decisions are made this week by school boards and charter boards are not going to be the last decisions that they are making as the situation continues to change and evolve.”

The governor said the state’s unified command has acquired more personal protective gear for students, teachers and others.

That PPE includes KN95 masks and face shields. Herbert said the state will distribute what he called PPE push packs for every school district.

“This pack will include five KN95 masks and two facials for every teacher and faculty member that equals 250,000 KN95 masks and 100,000 facials at the distribution center here,” Herbert said.

He said the gear will support approximately 28,000 teachers and 16,000 staff.

Herbert also announced a collaboration with seven other states and the Rockefeller Foundation to improve COVID-19 testing.

“I’ve been invited by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a good friend of mine, who’s partnered with the Rockefeller Foundation to work on purchasing large amounts of rapid COVID-19 tests,” he said.

The tests, Herbert said, will be able to return results in 20 or 30 minutes. More information on that collaboration should be released in the coming days.

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