SALT LAKE CITY — About 100 people met outside of the Utah Capitol Thursday evening to decry the possibility of increased coronavirus restrictions, including the suggestion of the state reverting back to its “orange” phase of responding to the pandemic.
The protesters walked around the base of the Capitol’s front steps a little after 5 p.m. as they waited for Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Hughes, the former Utah House speaker, to address the crowd. Some held signs condemning the idea of mandatory mask usage, while others leaned Hughes’ campaign signs against their chests as they conversed.
The majority were not wearing masks.
“This virus and the weight of the decisions that are being made are being felt solely on the shoulders and the backs of the working people of the state of Utah,” Hughes said to roars of approval from the crowd. “We’re feeling the full weight of this virus and it can’t be this way.”
He told protesters there is no way forward without an economy, and urged the state to find other ways to have enough hospital beds without reverting back to the orange phase.
“What we have to do is take precautions the best we can,” he said. “We have to take smart precautions, but you know what? I just think you need to keep your liberties while you’re doing it.”
Following Hughes’ speech, small business owners and others from the community took turns describing how the restrictions have adversely impacted their lives.
The rally wrapped up around 6:45 p.m. with a call to action. Organizers urged the crowd to write a letter to Gov. Gary Herbert and Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox calling for the economy to remain open and for business to be unhampered.
Utah is currently in its “yellow” risk phase of Herbert’s Utah Leads Together response plan, meaning businesses in most parts of the state have been allowed to reopen, including opening swimming pools and the resumption of team sports.
Dr. Angela Dunn, state epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health, told state and local leaders in a memo last Friday the state will need to move back into its orange — or moderate — risk phase if Utah doesn’t decrease its daily new COVID-19 case counts to no more than 200 a day by July. Cases have steadily been increasing over the last couple of weeks. Thursday marked the state’s third-highest daily case increase, with 590 new cases announced.
Acknowledging the “dramatic” increase in COVID-19 cases, Herbert urged Utahns to wear masks in public Wednesday, announcing that he is signing an executive order that will require masks in state buildings overseen by his office, including state offices, higher education facilities and liquor stores.
It was confirmed Thursday evening that the governor has approved requests from Salt Lake and Summit counties to make wearing a mask mandatory.
This story will be updated.