SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Republican Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said the state has no intention of delaying the November election following President Donald Trump's suggestion on Thursday that increased mail-in voting due to the coronavirus pandemic would result in fraud.
Herbert said there's been no evidence of tampering with mail-in ballots and characterized postponing the election as "foolish." Utah is one of the few states that primarily relied on mail-in voting before the pandemic raised concerns about voting in person.
"I'm not responsible for what comes out of Washington, D.C., so I don't think we need to postpone the election," Herbert told reporters. "It's been a blessing for a lot of people to be able to get the ballot, review the ballot, study the issues and the candidates and make an informed decision."
Meanwhile, the state hit a grim milestone Thursday when total deaths from the virus hit 300. Nine new deaths were reported, but officials also said cases have started to decline.
Utah has begun approaching the goal Herbert set to get the state's rolling weekly average to 500 new cases a day by Saturday. The state had a weekly average of 508 cases on Thursday.
State epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn said she's feeling "cautiously optimistic" about the state's lower case counts as schools eye reopening this fall.
"We have gone from a plateau to a decrease in total cases in Utah," Dunn told reporters. "That is statewide, and with school starting soon it is really important that we continue on this trajectory."
Dunn said any student who has COVID-19 or symptoms associated with the virus will stay home. Students who are considered close contacts to a confirmed case at school will have a modified quarantine, so they will be able to attend school if they don't have any symptoms and they wear a face covering and practice social distancing.
School districts will decide specific reopening strategies with the help of local health departments, but everyone will have to be flexible as schools figure out what works best for them, Dunn said.
On Tuesday, Utah's largest teachers union called for state leaders to delay reopening and start the school year with online classes until COVID-19 cases further decline.
More than 39,000 cases of the virus have been reported in Utah, according to state data. The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some - especially older adults and people with existing health problems - it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.