‘Vaccination, not masks’ will get us through COVID-19 pandemic, says Salt Lake County Health Department Executive Director

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SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4) – Salt Lake County will not adopt a mask mandate after the statewide requirement ends Saturday. This decision is being made based on data that shows an increase in vaccinations in the county.

Wednesday more than 1.5 million Utahns have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the Utah Department of Health.

With thousands of shots going into arms daily, Salt Lake County Health Department Executive Director Gary Edwards said the virus’ threat to the public continues to go down.

“Vaccination, not masks, is what will ultimately get us to the point of being able to declare this pandemic over,” he said.

Edwards will continue to monitor the situation and has set parameters around the situation, and at what point he would reconsider issuing a public health order.

“If Salt Lake County experiences two consecutive weeks of an increase in cases at 10% or greater. Our case rate reaches 245 per 100,000 over the previous 14-day period. The total ICU utilization and COVID ICU utilization increases to 75% and 15% respectively. Or the test positivity rate exceeds 7.5% for two consecutive weeks,” Edwards said.

Public health’s responsibility is to “control” disease, Edwards said. He notes public health orders should be used sparingly and only when the public’s health is at great risk.

“Last year our community was in imminent danger of overwhelming our healthcare system, and local public health orders were an important and appropriate measure to combat the surge,” he said. “The masks, the social distancing, quarantine, and isolation have been incredibly effective.”

Currently, one in three Salt Lake County residents are vaccinated. Edwards believes the state will achieve herd immunity by mid-June.

Edwards has served as director of the health department for 28 years. Prior to the pandemic, he’s only issued a public health order once – in 2010 when the Jordan River became contaminated.

When he issued the public health order for the county last year, he said it was necessary.

“We had nothing in our toolbox to use. We needed to have things to slow the spread of COVID and those measures have been effective,” he said.

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