SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – Clinical Leaders from Utah’s health systems met together over a ZOOM press conference Friday morning to outline their preparations on how to handle to growing COVID-19 surge. The health leaders also shared their concerns about the need for a statewide face mask mandate to help slow the spread of the virus. The clinical leaders also promoted the recent campaign, #MaskUpUtah.

This meeting comes one day after Governor Gary Herbert issued a mask mandate for all K-12 students attending school in the fall but didn’t order an official mask mandate for the whole state.

Leaders from Steward Healthcare, MountainStar Healthcare, University of Utah Health and Intermountain Healthcare all discussed their concerns in the meeting.

“We don’t know a lot about COVID-19…but a simple part of the equation is to wear a mask,” says Tom Miller, Univeristy of Utah Health Chief Medical Officer. “A mask is our best medicine right now along with physical distancing and hand hygiene.”

The medical professionals called for all Utahns to take COVID-19 seriously regardless of whether or not the governor issued an official mask mandate. Mark Briesacher, Chief Physician Executive of Intermountain Healthcare said that he ‘feels strongly’ that everyone who lives in Utah deserves a mask mandate.

As COVID-19 cases have begun to surge, the physicans say that they are trying to be as nimble as they can be to prepare for more hospitalizations and are ‘deeply concerned about the trajectory of COVID-19 in our state’.

Hospitals in the state of Utah are at an okay place when it comes to hospitalizations and ICU beds right now. The doctors noted that the pandemic can change quickly and while they are prepared for a potential surge and all the health systems have plans in place for a surge, it is not a place they want to go.

“Cases in (Steward Health) hospitals have nearly doubled,” says Dr. Arlen Jarrett of Steward Health. “We are not making the headway we need to make with the public to be socially responsible. It feels like we are headed for a disaster.”

While Jarrett says that if Utahns don’t mask up, physical distance and use good hand hygiene a disaster is on the way, he did say that it is still early enough in the pandemic to avoid that crisis.

Miller from the University of Utah added that the time to act is now and that state officials can’t wait until August or a later date for a state-wide mask mandate. Miller also mentioned that if action isn’t taken now, hospitals could be overrun in just two weeks.

“This will lead to increased hospitalizations,” says another Intermountain Healthcare professional on the risks of not wearing a mask. “We are managing this surge but if this continues…hospital personnel will have to take on new roles (to combat COVID-19),” he continued to say.

While health system members stressed the importance of wearing a mask, practicing hand hygiene and physical distancing, they made the point that people need to remember that masking up is not a political initiative.

“It’s not politics,” said one healthcare provider participating in the press conference. “It’s healthcare.”

“Masking up is a key issue. Data is becoming stronger and stronger to support this process,” says Mike Baumann, Chief Medical Officer at MountainStar Health. “Please mask up.”

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