Cox responds to Legislature’s veto-proof emergency powers bill

On the one-year anniversary of the World Health Organization declaring COVID-19 a global pandemic, Gov. Spencer Cox addressed Utahns in a press conference on the disease’s status in the state. He explained his opposition to the Legislature’s recent passage of HB 294 and defended the state’s reportedly low amount of administered vaccines.

 

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Both chambers of the Legislature passed the Emergency Powers Amendments bill this week, limiting the duration of Cox’s public health restrictions. Although the Governor disagrees with the bill, he is unable to prevent it from becoming law since legislators passed it with a veto-proof majority. Cox said he has spoken with lawmakers concerning his beliefs on the issue.

“I obviously don’t love the bill. We had already put forward our recommendations. We believe that it made sense to get enough vaccines to administer to all adults that wanted those vaccines before portions of the mask mandate went away. The Legislature disagreed with that — which they are entitled to do — and they were able to pass a bill with a significant veto-proof majority, and in our negotiations, we came up with the best we could do.”

Cox, who believes the state should uphold restrictions for longer, said he told lawmakers he would take as many days as they can give the state before mask restrictions were lifted. Following these negotiations, the Legislature decided to end the mask mandate on April 10.

He clarified that the mandate’s expiration has some exceptions:

“The entire mask mandate does not go away on April 10th. We still have a mask mandate in schools, we still have a mask mandate in large gatherings with fifty or more people … The second part of this is that businesses can and should still require masks in their places of business to protect their workers and their customers.”

Utah currently ranks among the lowest states in the country for vaccines administered as a share of the population. Cox believes this data is inaccurate, misleading and should be evaluated differently.

“We should not be reporting a percentage of total population vaccinated because kids under the age of 18 — or kids under the age of 16 in the case of the Pfizer vaccine — are ineligible to be vaccinated, and because we’re really good at having kids here — we have more kids per capita than any other state in the nation — we don’t get doses allocated for our kids.”

He is also concerned about the low allocation of vaccines from the federal government:

“We believe the data they’re using is a couple years old. As such, the states that are fast-growing states will be disproportionately disadvantaged when it comes to the amount of vaccines that are coming to us, and we are the fastest-growing state in the country over the last ten years.”

Lieutenant Governor Deidre Henderson joined Cox, presenting some of the state’s COVID-19 statistics. The state recorded its highest daily vaccine administration of 34,290 on Wednesday and will soon have administered one million doses total. According to Henderson, 79% of adults over 70, 64% of adults between 65 and 69 and 29% of adults between 50 and 65 have received at least one dose.

She also emphasized Utah’s prioritization of equity in its vaccine administration, stressing the need to overcome language barriers and vaccine distrust in underserved communities.

“We really want our vaccines to reflect our population and we want to make sure that we are not leaving anyone behind in vulnerable communities, vulnerable populations or hard-to-reach locations, so we’ve been working really hard on that vaccine distribution roadmap to make sure that we’re encompassing everyone.”