Governor’s press conference: How to continue moving forward in the midst of a pandemic?

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SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – The conversation continues during the Governor’s press conference about how to move forward in the midst of a pandemic while keeping people safe.

Thursday, Governor Gary Hebert along with health and school officials discuss the importance of wearing a mask and schools reopening.

‘Why wear a mask?’

Dr. Tom Miller, the chief medical officer of the University of Utah Health, discusses the importance of wearing a mask.

“Why wear a mask?” Miller said. “For 140 years, we’ve known masks can prevent the spread of disease. And that’s why surgeons wear them. You would not likely go see a surgeon for an operation without them wearing a mask. So, we know that they work.”

Until there’s an effective treatment or vaccine for COVID-19, Dr. Miller said masks are medicine, encouraging each Utahn to wear one.

How to handle academics during a pandemic

As students get ready to head back to the classroom in the coming weeks, Utah’s 41 school districts are working to come up with plans of how to approach academics during a pandemic.

Governor Herbert believes it’s important for students to continue their education, allowing all schools to reopen this fall, and making exceptions to mask requirements.

“If you’re maintaining your physical distance of six feet or more, you won’t have to wear a mask. If you’re eating lunch,” Herbert said. “Those involved in kindergarten or younger grades, there may be some needs for differences on mask-wearing. Those who have disabilities.”

During last week’s press conference, Herbert said if a student is sick, they must stay home.

Thursday, ABC4 News asked Gov. Herbert and Lexie Cunningham, the Utah State Superintendent’s Association director, if missing school days could result in a student being held back.

“I think there will be some allowances and flexibility that will be involved with this unique situation,” Gov. Herbert said.

“Districts and schools are already having that discussion, what will it look like if students have an illness and need to be out of school, what sort of things can be put in place?” Cunningham said.

Cunningham continues to say discussions surrounding teachers being sick is also a concern.

A small sacrifice for public health

Governor Herbert acknowledged that data shows the number of positive COVID-19 cases are dropping in places where masks are mandatory. But right now, he said he will not mandate masks statewide, as he believes each county is not a “one size fits all” situation.

“No one likes to have a mandate, but we all need to group together and link arms,” Gov. Herbert said. “So, we can protect the citizens of the state of Utah.”

Hebert recognizes mask-wearing is a divisive issue and asks those who are unwilling to comply with local public health orders, to listen to what health experts have to say about the respiratory virus and to “be good to your neighbor”.

And while wearing a mask may be inconvenient, Gov. Herbert said it’s a small sacrifice for public health, compared to sacrifices made during World War II.

“We need to put it in perspective,” Gov. Herbert said. “We’re not asking too much for us all to do what is necessary to sacrifice. To get on top of this war with the coronavirus. Let’s do it together.”

While COVID-19 creates challenges for every Utahn, Gov. Herbert said if people work together, it can make a difference.

Studies suggest large protests may not have impact on COVID-19

The Associated Press reports there is little evidence that the protests that erupted over the death of George Floyd caused significant increase in COVID-19 infections, according to public health experts.

Dr. Tom Miller, the chief medical officer of the University of Utah Health, said when people are outside – and with some distance – there’s much less risk of contracting the respiratory virus, than when indoors.

“What we do know, is when people are cheek to cheek indoors, working in call centers, working tightly packed in restaurants, in sporting events indoors, and places like that, that is where the virus moves from person-to-person.”

Dr. Miller continues to say it can move from person-to-person in an outdoor setting, but it’s less likely.

“So, I’m not surprised that the studies show that the protests are not necessarily a reason for the spike,” Miller said. “What I do think is, as a natural consequence of us getting back to work – which we must do – if we do that without wearing masks, and without handwashing and physical distance, to the best of our abilities, the virus will continue to spread.”

Dr. Miller encourages each person to wear a mask, and “not shame or blame”.

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