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Face masks required in Utah state buildings, largest county

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Utah Gov. Gary Hebert said Wednesday he will require face masks at state-run buildings that include liquor stores and higher education offices and approve a request from the state's largest county to make face coverings required in certain situations.

But the Republican governor stopped short of implementing a statewide requirement for face coverings as several other states have done such as Washington, California and New York.

Herbert called face masks an inexpensive and proven way to slow the spread of COVID-19 that should be worn at all times indoor settings and outdoors when social distancing is not possible.

He said everyone needs to "dial up" their personal responsibility as Utah deals with a troubling rise in infection rates and daily case counts since Herbert allowed many businesses to reopen last month.

Rather than a statewide face covering requirement, though, Herbert said he would like to instead have local government leaders request permission to make face coverings mandatory in their counties.

The expansive state that is mostly rural and sparsely populated other than a few counties around Salt Lake City has distinct environments and cultures, he said.

"The heavy hand of government sometimes has a negative reaction with the people," Herbert said during his weekly briefing with the media. "I'm hopeful we can get people to do the right thing for the right reasons, because they love their neighbor and want to protect their neighbor as well as themselves from the coronavirus."

Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson requested authority Tuesday to make face coverings mandatory in the county at retail and commercial establishments, restaurants while waiting to be seated and served ,and at community gatherings.

Herbert said he and his staff will meet Thursday to make a formal decision about that request, but said he expects to approve if if the data supports the reasoning.

About 1.1 million of the state's 3.2 million residents live in Salt Lake County.

A face mask requirement was among the recommendations in a memo sent last Friday by state epidemiologist Angela Dunn to Herbert and state leaders. Dunn cautioned that a complete shutdown might be imminent if Utah can't stop a prolonged spike of coronavirus cases.

Herbert said he will not loosen any more restrictions on businesses for at least two weeks, but has made clear he won't shut down the economy. Most of the state has already been allowed to reopen a number of venues such as restaurants, gyms, salons and pools.

Dunn said during Wednesday's briefing that her memo was meant as a starting point for discussion with state leaders and that she didn't intend to say the state economy should shut down. Herbert said he appreciated Dunn's analysis and input.

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