SALT LAKE CITY — Masks will be mandatory in parts of Utah that are home to several of the state’s famous national parks, the governor's office confirmed Thursday. The measures will not extend to park lands, which are run by the federal government.
Republican Gov. Gary Herbert has approved requests for face covering mandates in Grand County and the city of Springdale that go into effect Friday.
The measures come as the state tries to contain a monthlong surge in confirmed COVID-19 cases that led public health officials to urge people to spend their Fourth of July weekend outside and away from others to help prevent spread of the virus. State health officials are warning people that hospitals wouldn't be able to handle another major spike like the one that followed Memorial Day weekend.
The state's surge after the holiday weekend was likely caused by more people gathering while disregarding social distancing guidelines, according to the state's epidemiologist.
Grand County is home to the popular tourist destination of Moab, which is located right outside Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. Springdale is the gateway town to Zion National Park.
Grand County’s requirement temporarily orders the use of face coverings in indoor settings when social distancing is not feasible. The Springdale order will require that people wear masks in retail and commercial establishments, while waiting to be seated and served at restaurants and at any community gatherings.
The national parks are encouraging visitors to maintain social distancing and wear face coverings but are not requiring masks.
Herbert has declined to issued a statewide mask requirement in the deeply conservative state, instead telling counties and cities to ask his permission if they think mandating face coverings makes sense in their areas. Herbert gave approval to Salt Lake and Summit counties to issue their own mask mandates last week.
The state has averaged about 550 confirmed cases per day over the last week — more than double the 200-per-day rate the state’s epidemiologist recommended that Utah should be at by July 1 to avoid having to consider a total shutdown of the economy.
The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.
The governor has also said he plans to meet with state legislators in the coming weeks to discuss whether to seek a statewide mandate.
Sophia Eppolito is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a non-profit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.
Sophia Eppolito, The Associated Press