To Mask or Not to Mask?
That is the question asked in hundreds of emails I’ve received. Of those emails, half demand a local mask mandate while the other half are equally adamant against one. Without a doubt, the issue of mask-wearing has become political and, as my inbox shows, our community, our state and our nation are divided.
We are in the midst of a health pandemic the likes of which none of us have ever experienced in our lifetimes. Is it any wonder there is confusion and frustration over what each of us should be doing to protect ourselves and those around us? Only adding to this confusion is how inundated we all are with conflicting information.
At the outset of this pandemic we committed to a health-first policy that relies on the expert advice of health professionals and those tasked with managing our state and county COVID-19 response. Following the guidelines provided by the Utah County Health Department and the Utah Coronavirus Task Force, we developed our COVID-19 recovery plan, Proceed with Caution, released on May 4 and available online at covid19.provo.org.
The voluntary wearing of masks was and remains one of the safety guidelines we strongly support and highly recommend.
Noticing the recent increase in state and local cases, I reached out to Ralph Clegg, Executive Director of the Utah County Health Department to help eliminate some of the community confusion we are all feeling.
Q: What is causing the recent increase in cases?
While some increase is simply the accounting of back-logged cases, we are seeing an actual surge of cases since Memorial Day. This does not need to be a cause of panic, but rather a reminder to recommit to protecting our community by each doing our part.
Q: As the agency with the authority to request a county-wide mask mandate from the State, will you clarify if Utah County has a mask mandate or if you are considering it?
Utah County Health Department has not issued a mask mandate. While it is always an option if our case counts and other data points justify it, a mandate requires enforcement to be effective and that would reduce resources needed for enforcement elsewhere.
While we hear about city mask mandates throughout the nation, no Utah cities and only one Utah town (Springdale) have issued a mask mandate. Three Utah counties have also taken that step: Salt Lake, Summit and Grand.
Wearing a mask when we can’t social distance is a small sacrifice to pay for our overall community health and well-being.
Q: What can citizens best do to protect themselves?
Social distancing is key and if safe spacing is not an option, wear a mask. In social situations it’s particularly important to be vigilant in social distancing, with mask protection highly recommended.
Q: What are the best sources for up-to-date and useful health information?
No one piece of data accurately reflects the complete COVID-19 picture, so health professionals look at much more than just case count. Other important considerations include testing, hospitalizations, deaths, available hospital capacity, transmission rate and age groups impacted, to name just a few.
The Coronavirus Task Force website at coronavirus.utah.gov provides a wealth of information on statewide trends, outbreaks, hospitalizations and mortality rates with all data tracked from
March 1 until present. One graph referenced as a useful local resource is the Cases by Local Health Department, found at https://coronavirus.utah.gov/case-counts/.
Taking recommended precautions during this unique and challenging time is important to stop the spread in our community. Let’s bond together as a community to rise to whatever challenge comes our way. Stay safe and healthy!