COVID-19 case growth declines in 2 counties with mask mandates |

COVID-19 case growth declines in 2 counties with mask mandates

The Park Record.

The first two jurisdictions in Utah to require mask-wearing say they’re starting to see results in the data that doing so has helped slow the spread of COVID-19, though health officials stopped short of attributing the improvements solely to the mandates.

Summit County Health Director Rich Bullough said he is cautiously optimistic about trends he’s observed recently in the three-day rolling average of new cases here. After a spike he attributed to the Fourth of July, Bullough said it appears growth in new cases flattened and then started to slowly decline.

“About July 11, things began to turn, and we entered a period where it appeared that growth was flat for several days. Now we’re at a period where it appears cases are decreasing,” Bullough said in an interview Wednesday. “That period is seven days right now where we actually have incidence decline.”

He said the timing of a July 11 slowdown appears to align with the life cycle of the virus and the timing of the county’s mask mandate, which went into effect two weeks earlier on June 27.

Bullough said that the small sample size in Summit County makes the data here less reliable than in Salt Lake County, which also imposed a public mask requirement, but that he feels his tentative assessment is bolstered by what is happening in the Salt Lake Valley.

Summit County’s relatively small health department does not have the resources to definitively identify the trend, he said, but he asked the Utah Department of Health to analyze the data in relation to the mask mandate.

“As I look at these curves, and I’m always, I get in there everyday, look at data — (I’m) real hesitant to draw conclusions,” he said. “Every time I think we’re seeing something good, we have a bad day, and vice versa. This trend I’m seeing right now, to me, right now, it looks good. I’ve learned to be cautious.”

He said he anticipates spikes around events that draw people together, like holidays and school coming back into session. He had said previously that avoiding a spike or holding steady in case numbers around the Fourth of July would be a win for the mask mandate. Bullough said Summit County’s trend appears to mirror that of Salt Lake County, whose mayor Wednesday said that its mask mandate was working in the state’s most populous county, and in fact saving lives.

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve heard a consistent message from the World Health Organization, the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and epidemiologists throughout the world: Wearing masks slows the spread of COVID-19,” Mayor Jenny Wilson said at a Wednesday press conference. “We now have evidence of that in Salt Lake County.”

Wilson’s top advisor on the pandemic, David Schuld, said there is evidence that face coverings are impacting the speed of the spread of COVID-19 and that county analysts are seeing a correlation between the populace wearing face coverings and the slowdown of the disease’s spread in the area.

That’s the same line taken by State Epidemiologist Angela Dunn, who pointed to Salt Lake County’s success in slowing the spread of the disease in a press conference Wednesday. She stopped short of saying the mask mandate had caused the improved numbers, instead saying that a number of factors contribute to the disease’s prevalence. But she said she had seen a correlation.

Gov. Gary Herbert, at the same press conference, delivered a strong message about the importance of wearing face coverings, tying it to the Pioneer Day holiday and asking Utahns to show their love for their neighbors by covering their faces when they can’t maintain 6 feet of distance from others.

He said the situation in Salt Lake County appeared positive, but that the data in Summit County was less definitive. The governor did not appear to endorse the idea that the jurisdictions’ mask mandates had caused the slowdown.

He has declined to issue a statewide mask mandate, asking Utahns to wear masks because “it’s the right thing to do” rather than because they’re made to do it. Herbert, who will require students and staff to wear masks when school returns next month, indicated he would revisit the idea of a broader mandate Aug. 1.

Dunn said Summit County’s small sample size made it hard to identify trends and said that the most reliable way to examine the issue was looking at the data in Salt Lake County.

Salt Lake County released a report Wednesday that appeared to show a correlation between the mask mandate and new case numbers. Salt Lake County had been responsible for about half of the state’s daily new cases prior to June 27, the day its mask mandate took effect, but that percentage started to decline July 1, according to the county’s data.

Starting around July 11, Dunn said, the rolling seven-day average of new cases in the county had started to decrease.

Salt Lake County staffers also shared positive information about hospitalization rates compared to the rest of the state and the results of a field study in which 98% of the 1,100 people they observed in Salt Lake County in a two-day period were wearing face masks correctly, compared to 68% in Utah County and 83% in Davis County, which do not have mask mandates.

The county staffer noted the sample sizes in the neighboring counties were considerably smaller, 240 people in Utah County and 137 in Davis.

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