Utah Gov. Gary Herbert late Sunday issued a state of emergency ordering all residents to wear a mask when out in public or within six feet of someone they don't live with. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo
Nov. 9 (UPI) -- Utah Gov. Gary Herbert declared a state of emergency late Sunday to institute a number of measures, including a statewide mask mandate, to prevent the overcrowding of hospitals amid a surge in COVID-19 infections.
The state's Republican governor made the emergency declaration via a video posted to social media as hospitalizations and new coronavirus cases surge in the state.
"Due to the alarming rate of COVID infections within our state, tonight I issued a new state of emergency with several critical changes to our response," he said. "These changes are not shutting down our economy, but are absolutely necessary to save lives and hospital capacity."
The mask mandate requires all residents to wear a mask while in public and in private when within six feet of a person they don't live with. Businesses are also mandated to enforce the rule for employees and customers with those failing to do so subjected to fines, he said.
Herbert also banned social gatherings with those outside one's household and suspended all youth and high school extracurricular activities.
He also mandated for students enrolled in public and private institutions of higher education who live on campus or attend at least one in-person class to be tested for COVID-19 at least once a week.
The restrictions go into effect Monday at 1p.m., but while the ban on gatherings and extracurricular activities expires with the state of emergency on Nov. 23, the mask mandate and the testing of college and university students will continue for the foreseeable future.
The fine for organizers of public gatherings could be as steep as $10,000 per event, he said.
The order came as the state combats skyrocketing infections and hospitalizations.
According to government statistics, the state has set records for most cases reported in a 24-hour period in three of the last four days while experiencing an upward trend in cases and hospitalizations since early September.
On Sunday, state health officials reported 2,355 new cases in the past 24 hours, lifting its total tally of infections amid the pandemic to 132,621 while hospitalizations continue to climb by several dozen patients a day. Its death toll is at 659 lives lost.
Herbert said that a full economic shutdown is neither necessary nor warranted to stop this escalating trend.
"Utah is open for business," he said. "You can still shop, dine in or carry out, exercise, worship and recreate, and many other things. We are just saying, stay within your household group whenever possible, particularly for the next two weeks."
Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall, who has repeatedly called for statewide restrictions to be put in place, thanked the governor for his "overdue" declaration.
"Let's all make these reasonable sacrifices to reduce our COVID surge, protect our friends and family and support our healthcare workers," she tweeted. "We can do this together."
The order comes amid surging infections throughout the United States, which has reported record daily infections on the past three days, hitting a high of more than 128,400 infections in the past 24 hours, according to a live tracker of the virus by Johns Hopkins University.