Cox says Utah doing well, drops school mask mandate and teases incentives in COVID-19 briefing

Coronavirus Updates

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Utah Governor Spencer J. Cox gave his weekly COVID-19 briefing on Thursday morning, citing three key points in his address, including the dropping of statewide mask mandates in school.

First, Cox noted that Utah is “doing very well” in terms of vaccination and economic recovery. He made mention of news that broke on Wednesday, that federal pandemic unemployment benefits in the state would be ending, calling it “good news” that so many jobs are available to unemployed Utahns.

Utah currently has the lowest unemployment rate at 2.9%, prompting Gov. Cox’s decision to roll back the federal benefits, including the $300-a-week payments.

“This is the natural next step in getting the state and people’s lives back to normal,” Gov. Cox said on Wednesday. “I believe in the value of work. With the nation’s lowest unemployment rate at 2.9% and plenty of good-paying jobs available today, it makes sense to transition away from these extra benefits that were never intended to be permanent. The market should not be competing with government for workers.”

There were about 28,000 Utahns receiving those payments with about 50,000 jobs available, according to the Department of Workforce Services.

Cox’s second point was focused on COVID-19 protocols in schools, with a major announcement that the K-12 mask mandate would be ended for the last week of school, whenever that would be for each school district.

“We believe that this is the right thing to do, the prudent thing to do,” said Cox, while also encouraging Utahns to do what they need to do to remain comfortable and safe.

In his third point before leaving for other engagements, Cox continued to urge Utahns to get vaccinated by teasing an incentive for those who are hesitant. Saying he wasn’t sure what the incentive should be for Utahns, while noting the various other offerings that other states have made for their hesitant persons, he said he was open to ideas. Cox also added that he hoped that an incentive wasn’t necessary.

In his first briefing without former state epidemiologist Angela Dunn, Cox and Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson were joined by the state health department’s deputy director, Michelle Hofmann.

In her time at the podium, Henderson asked Utahns to “do better, and to do better quickly,” at getting vaccinated. She continued to say that plenty of vaccine appointments are available as are the mobile vaccination clinics while also mentioning that Lyft and Uber are providing rides to appointments.

“We’ve come a long, long way and we do not want to go backward,” Henderson said, noting the importance of getting vaccinated before serious virus variants develop.

Henderson also noted that on Monday, the state task force will be dissolving, turning full control of the pandemic efforts to the state health department. On Monday, many state employees will return to their regular duties, according to Henderson.

Hofmann, in her turn to speak, added her excitement at the Pfizer vaccine’s availability for teenagers, based on her experience in pediatrics, and asked parents to speak to their medical providers on getting their children vaccinated.

In his briefing last week, Cox voiced his excitement at the fact that the state was approaching the milestone of having one million Utahns fully vaccinated.

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According to the Utah Department of Health, 418 new COVID-19 cases were reported on Thursday, including 6 deaths, bringing the total of positive cases in the state to 401,669 with a death toll of 2,255.

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