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Dr. Dunn: Utah May End Mask Mandates By Early July

FILE PHOTO (Mike Anderson/KSL TV)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Optimism has grown that the COVID-19 vaccination campaign could get American life back to normal sooner than previously thought, and in Utah, leaders said dropping mask mandates could happen by early July.

On Tuesday, President Joe Biden said all adults should be able to get their first shot by the end of May while some states started lifting COVID-19 restrictions.

Gov. Spencer Cox said he expected enough vaccine for every Utah adult by early May. State epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn expressed optimism too, but she wants to make sure we cross the finish line before easing up on restrictions too early.

“We can only give out as many vaccines as we’re given, and we are doing fantastic in terms of the speed at which we’re getting our vaccines out,” Dunn said.

When can Utah consider lifting the mask mandate and other COVID-19 restrictions?

Texas and Mississippi already made that move while the Centers for Disease Control warned against it, citing that it is premature from a public health standpoint as the country awaits the impact from coronavirus variants.

“We are definitely getting pressure to do that (lift the restrictions), and from a health and economic perspective, the mask wearing and the mask mandate is the simplest thing we can do to protect the health of Utah and also the economy,” Dunn said.

Right now, according to metrics cited by Cox Tuesday, Utah still needs to see lower rates of transmission, virus spread and percent positivity, and fewer hospitalizations.

Utah will also wait eight weeks after 70% of the population has received its first dose to allow for the second dose and to give immunity a chance to kick in. That’s why the governor was optimistic about a Fourth of July without masks.

“My preference is that the masks are the very last thing to go after we have herd immunity, after a vaccine is available to all Utahns and after we see a drop in cases even lower than what we have now,” Dunn said.

Dunn said she does not want to put a date on when Utah will meet the criteria for dropping the mask mandate and other restrictions because there are too many factors involved. Dunn said Independence Day is a possibility if Utahns mask up, social distance and keep getting vaccinated.

“We’re still on that teetering edge where, at any moment, the embers out there can flame back up,” she said. “So, we need to keep using every tool at our disposal to drive those case counts until we just have sporadic COVID cases.”

Only then, she said, should Utahns feel comfortable about walking around in crowded settings without a mask.

“To me, it’s disappointing that something so simple, so cost-effective — really the one intervention that has a clear bang for our buck — is at the center of this controversy once again when we’re so close to the finish line,” Dunn said.

She added her opinion is not the only one, and the public health order could change again before the state meets the current criteria for reopening.

“But if we give up now, our cases are just going to go right back up,” she said.

Dunn said epidemiologists will be watching the states that have lifted restrictions and hoping that it works. She fears, however, that those states run the risk of a surge in case counts and even exporting that surge to other states.

Coronavirus Resources

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How do I prevent it?

The CDC has some simple recommendations, most of which are the same for preventing other respiratory illnesses or the flu:

  • Avoid close contact with people who may be sick
  • Avoid touching your face
  • Stay home when you are sick
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue and then throw the tissue in the trash
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing. Always wash your hands with soap and water if your hands are visibly dirty.
  • If soap and water is not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

The CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies), especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.

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