SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert on Monday insisted his choice to announce new statewide COVID-19 restrictions, days after the 2020 election, had “completely nothing to do with politics” and all the pieces to do with information.
However the governor, whose time in workplace ends in January and will probably be succeeded by Lt. Gov, Spencer Cox, additionally lamented that the COVID-19 pandemic got here throughout a time of division, and that it’s been “exploited” by politicians on “each side of the aisle.”
“I feel it’s, in truth, unlucky that we’ve had this pandemic throughout a political 12 months,” Herbert stated. “I feel that, sadly, politics has gotten in the way in which of possibly doing the precise factor in the precise means as quickly as we will and uniting the general public. Politics sadly has a means of dividing us. … Either side of the aisle have in truth used this as a political device and a message to advocate for his or her place.
“So in a nonelection 12 months,” Herbert added, “I feel we’d have somewhat higher time of bringing individuals collectively, which is what we have to do.”
Herbert held a information convention Monday to take questions on his Sunday evening announcement of a sweeping statewide masks mandate and different new restrictions for the subsequent two weeks, hoping to lastly clamp down on a troubling spike that has put Utah among the many worst states within the U.S. for COVID-19 case counts.
Pressed by reporters in a Monday information convention concerning the timing of his announcement, Herbert stated state officers have been “following the info” whereas additionally attempting to “strike the steadiness” between public well being and financial well being.
However Herbert’s new restrictions got here after weeks of foreboding, data-based indications that Utah was already on a disastrous trajectory towards COVID-19 overwhelming the state’s hospital system.
In mid-October, state officials changed Utah’s color-coded COVID-19 risk level system amid criticisms from health officials the system had sent mixed messages about the seriousness of the pandemic, in addition to native masks mandates depending on totally different areas’ transmission charges. For months, Herbert had been reluctant to subject a statewide masks mandate, saying he most well-liked native leaders make that call themselves.
It wasn’t till Utah’s hospital system was getting ready to catastrophe that the governor resorted to a clear statewide mask mandate, limits on extracurricular actions, and halts on informal social gatherings amongst these of various households.
Pressed on why he waited till now to subject these ranges of restrictions, despite the fact that the announcement was preceded by weeks of regarding COVID-19 tendencies, Herbert stated the timing “has solely to do with the info.”
That information has proven for weeks that the strategy of trusting Utahns to make the precise selections, with out authorities mandates, hasn’t been working.
“Once more, this has been a piece in progress since March,” Herbert stated. “We wished to haven’t the heavy hand of presidency, however the delicate, velvet contact of presidency giving steerage and route and letting individuals, in truth, make applicable selections. That’s labored very properly. As we’ve moved again indoors with college coming (again) we’ve discovered that’s not working as properly.”
Earlier than the election, Gov.-elect Spencer Cox stated the Republican-dominated Legislature, which now has the ability to name itself right into a particular session, has “consistently threatened to take energy away from the governor as this disaster strikes on. None of that is taking place in a vacuum.”
Herbert, pressed on whether or not the Legislature’s potential to name itself into particular session had something to do together with his decision-making, stated it had “nothing to do with” that, and once more stated it was based mostly on the info. However he additionally famous there was “good communication each step of the way in which” in weekly conferences with legislative leaders.
“We’re working collectively, so there’s a major spirit of collaboration and a united entrance on virtually all of this,” Herbert stated. “Folks within the legislative physique, some are extra Libertarian on this and say, ‘Authorities shouldn’t do something,’ and we predict as conservatives the federal government ought to have a task to play and information.”
Senate Majority Whip Dan Hemmert, R-Orem, stated GOP lawmakers are keen to attend and see what occurs over the subsequent two weeks. Nevertheless, Hemmert stated “there was no blessing given and one was not requested for” by the governor.
The measures introduced by Herbert are much less stringent than what was mentioned in final week’s postelection Senate GOP caucus, he stated, the place an order from the governor shutting down gyms and dine-in eating places was nonetheless on the desk.
Hemmert downplayed the timing of the governor’s new restrictions.
“I could also be naively incorrect however that is my opinion. I don’t suppose this was politically motivated,” he stated.
As a substitute, Hemmert stated he believes the governor reacted to each the elevated circumstances and the latest go to by federal well being officers, together with Dr. Deborah Birx, a prime White Home adviser on COVID-19 who has advocated for a extra aggressive response to the virus than President Donald Trump.
“That each one simply culminated on the identical time, which occurred to be proper across the time of the election,” he stated.
Up to now, there are not any plans for an additional particular session earlier than the 2021 Legislature begins assembly in late January, Hemmert stated. However he acknowledged the chance that lawmakers may resolve to step in and undo the governor’s actions.
“There’s at all times an opportunity,” the Senate majority whip stated. “Give it these two weeks and let’s see what occurs subsequent.”