SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – In his monthly news conference, Utah Governor Spencer J. Cox addressed COVID-19 vaccination efforts, an extraordinary special session held on Wednesday, and drought concerns for the upcoming summer months.
Cox began his comments by addressing the downward tread of COVID-19 hospitalizations while still reminding Utahns to get vaccinated and wear masks if they have not yet received a vaccine. Citing off a few figures, Cox stated getting the vaccine can have a correlation with a reduction of hospitalization numbers in the elderly age groups.
The governor continued to say Utah’s vaccination efforts for youngsters is doing well, and the state’s rate of 9% of those aged 12-15 with at least one vaccine shot was the best in the nation.
Addressing some concerns and “misinformation” that have been circulating, Cox also stated that vaccination poses no fertility risks and that pregnant mothers should feel safe to get the vaccine.
In last week’s COVID-19 briefing Gov. Cox made several big announcements involving unemployment benefits, mask mandates in schools, and a possible incentive program to motivate vaccine-hesitant people to get vaccinated.
The discussion on masks in schools continued this week at the state legislative level.
During a special session on Wednesday, the Utah Legislature passed a bill would prevent schools from requiring face masks in the upcoming school year.
The bill, House Bill 1007, eliminates a school district’s power to enforce its own mask mandate for the upcoming school year.
Students, however, would have the choice to wear a face mask to school if they wish.
The bill is headed to Gov. Cox’s desk to be either signed or vetoed. Cox stated on Thursday he will sign it due to the positive indications the data on COVID-19 transmissions and vaccinations have “made it clear” doing so is safe.
He also cited research suggesting recognizing facial expressions is an important part of a child’s language development.
As the pandemic continues to wane, Cox concluded, urging Utahns to get vaccinated or to wear a mask if they choose not to so things can “get back to normal.” Mentioning he had attended an event at Hale Center Theatre, Cox says the human interaction, missing for a while, is something we all need.
“We are wired for human connection,” he says.
Another controversial topic discussed at the legislative session related to Critical Race Theory, which involves the discussion of race issues in America’s history. The theory essentially states systemic racism was a major driver in America’s development and continues, to a degree, currently.
Legislative leaders called their own special session to discuss Critical Race Theory in schools, as well as the state becoming a Second Amendment Sanctuary.
The governor wanted to leave those two items out, saying more time should be taken before discussing them. However, on Thursday, he said he had no issue with the way things played out.
“They are doing it the right way,” Cox said, adding the resolution had been drafted in a very rational and involved manner and more work would be done to better define the issue.
“It’s how that you define it that matters,” Cox said.
The Senate Majority Caucus said they are against Critical Race Theory being taught in Utah schools, saying in a statement to ABC4:
“Everyone is created equal and should be judged by their character, not the color of their skin. For this reason, we oppose critical race theory being taught in schools. American history should be taught in a way that highlights our country’s highs and lows, triumphs, and mistakes. We do not want to erase or bypass history, but we need to prevent schools from endorsing discriminatory concepts.”
The Senate Majority Caucus says they do, however, support making Utah a Second Amendment sanctuary state, saying in part, “We are committed to protecting the Second Amendment rights defined in the U.S. Constitution by our Founding Fathers. Our most important duty as legislators is to preserve Utahns’ freedoms, including the freedom to bear arms without government interference.
The Utah House of Representatives announced they would also consider resolutions on making Utah a Second Amendment Sanctuary State.
In a statement to ABC4, Speaker of the House Brad Wilson said,
“Utahns — not federal bureaucrats — must remain in control of what is taught in our schools to ensure students understand both positive and negative events in American history, and their duty to be engaged, respectful members of society,” said Wilson.
Democrats in the House were upset at the actions, giving a statement on Wednesday that they were opposed to the resolution hearings and not been included in discussions beforehand.
“We oppose holding an extraordinary special session to address the proposed issues not included on the Governor’s special session call. Democrats were excluded from discussions, we reject such divisive action, and we oppose the content of the resolutions,” the statement read.
The Democrats continued to express their displeasure by walking out of the voting process in the special session on Wednesday. A ban on teaching Critical Race Theory in schools passed 21-6 in the Senate and 56-0 in the House, not including the Democrats who had left the room.
The vote on the Second Amendment Sanctuary State bill was also passed by a 22-6 vote in the Senate and a unanimous yes in the House.
As for whether, he, a Republican, was put off by the Democrats’ walk-out the day before, Cox stated he wasn’t.
“It’s their way of making their voices heard, and I don’t have a problem with that either,” Cox said. The governor also added, regarding Critical Race Theory, the United States has made some big mistakes in its past and acknowledging that should be an important part of teaching its history.
As the state readies for what could be a tough summer in regards to a possible or likely drought, Cox also addressed those concerns, saying there would be cutbacks and Utahns would need to be responsible with water usage.
“Most Utahns overwater,” says Cox, adding little things like dragging a chain behind a truck or shooting guns in a dry area could be especially dangerous this summer.
“How bad it gets really depends on the weather,” he concluded.