Governor's News Conference

December 18, 2020

"We do appreciate it, and I'll just say again, they've (teachers) been on the front lines of this issue. It's been a challenge to our education system with this pandemic. And our teachers have showed up every day to do their part. And so, we thank them. We recognize their good work." Governor Herbert


ANNOUNCER:  PBS Utah presents, "The Governor's Monthly News Conference." An exchange between Utah reporters and Governor Gary Herbert.

GOVERNOR HERBERT: Good morning. 

REPORTERS: Good morning, Governor.

GOVERNOR HERBERT: It's my pleasure to be with you again and this is kind of a bittersweet day for me. I've been doing this with you all for 11 1/2 years, our weekly briefing, and news conference, and I've enjoyed coming and talking about the events of the day and having your questions that I need to answer. And, but this is my last one. So, it's kind of a bittersweet day for me as I reflect upon the last 11 1/2 years and what the future is going to be for me which is going to be different.

But I thank you for your kindness and, and your questions, and for your ability to get the information out to the people of Utah to help us with that communication need. We do discuss the issues of the day and we have a couple of announcements to make today.

So, a little bit of news. I know that on top of mind for many people is what are we doing with our business community, particularly our restaurants and our bars? With COVID-19, the businesses that have been hit the hardest have been those in the hospitality industry. They're down today about 16.7% from what they were before. Now, they're recovering from where they're low was, about 60 or 70% off, and our airlines were down to like 90%.

So, the trend is good but still people are hurting in the hospitality industry. We've been working very closely with the Restaurant Association, many bar and restaurant owners themselves, in fact, I had a meeting here just recently to talk about the situation they have and learn more about what they're trying to do and what they're willing to do. We obviously want to make sure that our restaurants and bars are safe places for people to go, because healthcare really is on top of the list, but we want to make sure that our business community has every opportunity to not only survive, but to thrive. And out of that meeting recently we had, we've come to understand that they are willing to, the bars and restaurant owners, to make sure that they have a safe place for their patrons to come and participate, and they're willing to enforce physical distancing and limiting capacity of their restaurants and bars. 

They're ready to require mask wearing at all times except when people are actively eating or drinking. And also, along with that, to say that you have to be stationary when you're eating or drinking. And that's the protocol that we find in many places around the country, and so you cannot just have a glass in your hand and walk throughout the facility there, that would not be, that would increase risks. So, if you're going to drink and eat you have to be stationary while you do it. They're willing to do that. And so, because of that commitment that they've made here to us this past week with those commitments in place we're ready to announce today, effective tomorrow, that alcohol restrictions, alcohol sales, past 10 o'clock will be lifted. So, we'll go back to the way it was before. And we thank them for their willingness to do those things and wish them very well in their future.

Second announcement I want to make really has to do with our schools. Our school system has been challenged, is still probably one of our most challenging areas of concern with COVID-19. We understand how significantly important it is to educate our children, and certainly we find that in-class instruction with the teacher is the best for them to learn. And so, they're going into their winter break now, here in just a few days, and so I'm going to make some announcements today, and Rich Saunders, who's our Executive Director for the Utah Department of Health, at our COVID 19 weekly broadcast will give a little more detail on this a little later on today. But we want them to know now, so they can anticipate and prepare for this change which will be effective here, the 1st of the year after the New Year. 

So, we're going to announce the change of quarantine guidelines. As you know, right now, the current guideline if somebody gets sick in a class, and those who are in contact with them have to be quarantined also. We have found over the last four to five months of data that the risk of those people that go home and quarantine that did not have the COVID, were just, were in close contact is pretty minimal. Like 1% of those people, our students would get sick. And so, if both the one who has the sickness, the COVID-19, and those who they contact with have mask wearing, we're going to let them stay in school. They will not have to go home and be quarantined at all. The one that has COVID will go home and go through the protocols there. But those who are in contact if they had mask on mask will be allowed to stay in school. We find that that's a low risk situation, and actually in class in school is a low risk scenario too.

So, this is going to help us, I think, with minimal disruption now, less disruption in the classroom, that's going to be good for the teachers and less disruption at home. That's going to be good for parents and guardians, particularly for single parents, that's going to be a help. So, we're still going to ask schools to do contact tracing and to make sure that they're following that, steps to make sure that people are wearing masks and those that are in contact with each other are wearing mask, mask on mask as we call it. 

I know there might be some concern for some of the teachers, are they going to be increasing their risk? But the data shows that that's really not going to increase risk. The classroom is in fact, a low risk area. And that's good news for our students and for our teachers and faculty. Again, I hope that teachers will take heart in knowing that we are arranged for them to be tested anytime that they like to so they can test regularly and often. And also, we are going to have them, right after our healthcare providers, they're going to be receiving the vaccine. So, that should give them confidence going forward here the first year. We hope that all of our teachers will start being vaccinated by the middle part of January.

In conclusion to my opening remarks let me just say that we've had good news, you know, with the coming of the vaccine. Again, I think that's a, as we've said before, the kind of the beginning of the end we see, we're really turning the corner now on this pandemic. I do believe the vaccines are effective. We will receive 154,000 plus doses here in this month of December. We'll receive another like, and more, in January. We would hope that as we continue to have this crescendo of doses that come in and more available, that we'll in fact be able to have everybody have the opportunity by March or April, that wants to have a vaccine to come in and have a vaccine so that everybody will have an opportunity before summer starts, and it will be when we can really start seeing a recovery take place. 

I would just say this with the vaccine, I, there's going to be a tendency for us to kind of relax, become a little more complacent. That would be a mistake. The COVID 19 is still out there and around even though we're going to have people vaccinated. And so, we need to continue to practice social distancing, staying away from each other, particularly those that have COVID, that's the best safe thing you can do. Mask wearing, washing of your hands and proper hygiene. And again, being extra careful if you're sick, don't go to work, and that's going to be necessary for a number of months. And so, I would encourage us all even though the vaccines arriving and we'd encourage everybody to take the opportunity to get the shot but continue to social distance, wear a mask, and proper hygiene.

With that, anxious to see 2021, I think it should be a good year. I'm going to be sitting on the sidelines and watching all the good things that are going to happen, but we're all going to be glad to put 2020 in our rear- view mirror. With that I'm happy to answer any questions you might have.

BEN WINSLOW, FOX 13: Governor, do you have any thoughts on Speaker Wilson's budget amendment in the Executive Appropriations Committee that appears to cut Salt Lake City school teachers out of receiving a COVID-19 bonus that other teachers are getting because they're an online only education right now?

GOVERNOR HERBERT: I don't know. I've not talked to Speaker Wilson to know what his motivation is on that. I know we want our schools to be open. I think we all would desire to have that to happen. I do know on the bonus situation though, that Governor-elect Spencer Cox, that's a proposal he's been pushing. In fact, he had our Education Director, Karen Pearson, drop a proposal which was presented to the speaker and to the president and the legislature as something that they ought to come together on. And I guess there's been some willingness to do that.

So, I credit Spencer Cox for having the vision to say let's see if we can, in our upcoming budget, I give our teachers some bonuses. I know his proposal had bonuses to all school districts. So, this will be resolved and worked out during the upcoming legislative session. So I'm not too worried about it, but that concept of rewarding our teachers, who we should all just applaud, give them a standing ovation for the difficult times they have in teaching and the dual hats they have to wear, online as well as in class, we're anxious to get everybody back in class. We want to give parents and students choices though, so that they can make sure that they decide what's best for them, and that's part of the challenge we have going on right now.

BEN WINSLOW, FOX 13: But should Salt Lake City school teachers be left out because they're online only?

GOVERNOR HERBERT: Well, I don't know that they should, but that's not my decision to make, that's going to be coming up, as I say, in the general session. I know that the proposal that Spencer Cox put forward included all the school districts and I think that's his intent. He can address that himself, but the legislature, again, they are the ones that spend the money. That's their job as legislators. Yes?

MICHAEL LOCKLEAR, KUTV: I know bar owners will be pleased with your announcement that the alcohol curfew will be lifted tomorrow. In talking to some of them this week they brought it up and their question was, was there policy, was there science behind that policy? Looking back, do you think that was the right move to make?

GOVERNOR HERBERT: There was a lot of data and it's, although it's not all one sided versus another but the data would show and we see across the country today, we have places where bars are not open at all. And the idea of movement that happens in a bar, a little more casual atmosphere, that's why people go there to hang out and have casual interaction is not, it was more conducive to the spread of the virus than it is to protect each other from the virus. And so, that's been something that we see across the country.

We went and looked at our own data. We determined that if they would do these things then it would not be any more risky than going to a traditional restaurant without alcohol being served. And so, with their commitments to follow the protocols, we said it's time to then eliminate the restriction on alcohol sales past 10 o'clock. I've come from the position of whatever the issue is, whatever the activity may be, if you can social distance, if you can wear a mask, if you can have proper hygiene, we ought to look for ways to make it happen. And we've really been a state that has not closed things down.

In the very beginning, we were listed as the third least restrictive state in America. We try to have that proper balance of protecting people's health and being concerned there, but also keeping the economy going. And the data shows our economy, we're at 4.1% unemployment rate, but the hospitality industry is hurting the most. And so this will hopefully give them some relief to go out and hopefully hang on until we get into the first part of the year, when we're going to start putting this pandemic in the rear view mirror. Yes?

RUDY NIEVES, TELEMUNDO UTAH: Hi, governor. 11 1/2 years is a long time. Working so close with the Hispanic community all these years, what did you learn about their issues? And second question, what will be your advice to Spencer Cox regarding the Hispanic community?

GOVERNOR HERBERT:  Well, Governor-elect Cox is going to do very well with the Latino, Hispanic community because he speaks fluent Spanish. So that's going to give him an advantage, I think, in relating to our Hispanic community. That being said, 13% of our population of 3.2 million people are Hispanic and they are very important and part of our fabric, they contribute in so many different ways. They add to our diversity, they add to our culture and they're very good business people. Have great families, I mean, they relate very well with the culture of Utah. And I know I've been to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce a number of times and they're doing some great things in creating economic opportunity, and jobs for all. And so, they're very welcome and appreciated. So, I think things, the future, I think the Hispanic population seems to be one of the fastest growing sectors of our population here in the State of Utah. And, we appreciate the good things they're doing for all of us.

EMILY MEANS, KUER: Governor, you announced a new compact this week to make progress on institutional racism in the state. What sort of specific policies do you have in mind to make that happen in the future?

GOVERNOR HERBERT: Well, I think we have an opportunity to, we've had our conscience kind of pricked I think with the killing of Mr. Floyd and the other incidents that have taken place around the country. I don't want to discount all the progress that's been made. And I hope to, as we talk about these things, we understand that we have made progress. We've elected a African-American as president, Barack Obama. We, I just was talking yesterday with Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris, an African-American. So, we've made strides in the right direction but we probably haven't gone as far as we can or should and some think we've not done as enough, some think we've been doing plenty, but I think we can do better. And so, this compact is designed to help us all say we're going to make a commitment. I'm going to sign this thing and say, "You know what? I'm going to call out racism when I see it" I'm going to do my part to make sure that people are treated fairly and equally and we all have roles to play. And if we all do that the cultural change will be better.

Everybody should feel welcome. Nobody should feel afraid. I, in talking to some of our African-American brothers and sisters, their concern is, "Does my child walk down the street, and are they afraid when the police approach them?" Shouldn't be that way. And so, whatever we need to do in fact to eliminate that we are all brothers and sisters. I'm a man of faith. I believe in God. I believe we're all his children. Therefore, we're all brothers and sisters. And although we have different philosophies of life and certainly different politics, we share one thing, we're all part of the same race, it's called the human race.

So this compact is going to help us I think, find ways to improve our own lives and collectively change the culture and make sure that everybody feels welcome, and that there are no hurdles to overcome to have access to economic success, to be the best you can be in our society. And we ought to help each other do that to realize whatever our goals are.

EMILY MEANS, KUER: Really quickly. Do you think there's anything specific that law enforcement in the state should consider? Because, you know, certainly this isn't just a national and cultural and philosophical issue. This is, you know, real people's lives being affected here in Utah.

GOVERNOR HERBERT: I think our policemen need to be trained as professionals. They can. We need to spend money and resources on making sure that they're trained. They have to make split-second decisions, and that sometimes is a hard thing to do. I think sometimes we're overly critical because we have a few that spoil it for the many. We need to have sensitivity training. We certainly have eliminated, for example, any kind of choke holds or pressure on the neck that caused George Floyd to die. We've made those illegal.

So, there's some things legislatively we can do and change the rules and the regulations, but again appropriate training and sensitivity, and I think that's a step in the right direction. Again, I think we'll evolve and learn more. There are discussions going on now with our Multicultural Committee, our MLK Commission, the NAACP. So we have better dialogue and better understanding. So we'll see what happen as we go forward, but I think this is a step in the right direction. It's time to reboot. And that's what this is going to do. 

RAEANN CHRISTENSEN, PBS UTAH: All right, Governor Herbert, we do have some reporters joining us remotely, so we would like to go to Chris Reed with the St. George, Cedar City News.


RAEANN CHRISTENSEN, PBS UTAH:  Chris, go ahead with your question. 

CHRIS REED, ST. GEORGE NEWS: Great governor, and it's been 11 years and I know it's hard to encompass in one statement in truth.


CHRIS REED, ST. GEORGE NEWS:  11 1/2, exactly.

CHRIS REED, ST. GEORGE NEWS:  11 1/2. And as far as what you've accomplished as a governor what would you like to be remembered by? And also anything specific to Southern Utah you want to be remembered by? And is there something that you missed that you hope that Governor-elect Cox will take care of?

GOVERNOR HERBERT:  I'm sure he'll amplify what we've done and build upon our foundation and take the state to new heights. You know, talking about Southern Utah, it just emphasizes the regional differences we have as a state. And we need to respect that, that it's not all the same, and that's why a one-size fits all approach to about any subject probably comes up short of success.

So, I appreciate the uniqueness of Southern Utah, our public lands, most of our energy development, our national parks, those things make it a little bit different in different parts of the state. But again, I think we've done good. My style has been one that I make no bones about it. I'm a right of center conservative. I am pretty conservative in my politics, but I am moderate in tone and I'm inclusive in process. And I found that for me, that works very well. And I would suggest to everybody, no matter if you're right of center or left of center, we ought to be a little more moderate in tone and show civility and respect for each other. And we ought to be inclusive in the process so we have better dialogue and have better understanding. Steve Covey taught us, "Seek first to understand, and then to be understood." And that's probably a good process for us. And I think that's the approach I've tried to take and hopefully it's worked.

RAEANN CHRISTENSEN, PBS UTAH:  All right, Bethany, go ahead with your question. 

BETHANY RODGERS, SALT LAKE TRIBUNE:  Hi Governor. So, I was hoping to go back a little bit and look at the early days of the pandemic. And I'm wondering what your assessment of the state's early response was and how that set the stage for the rest of the pandemic response? And then also why the Governor's Office of Management and Budget was so heavily involved in some of those major decisions during the early days?

GOVERNOR HERBERT:  Well, it's always easy to have hindsight, and it's always a lot more clearer as we look back with 20/20 vision. In the heat of the battle and the difficulty that we faced there and not knowing, you know, what we know now, it's hard to make decisions. You look back and say, "Well, I should have done something. I should have nuanced it here and moved this way or done something differently. We certainly made mistakes along on the way, but we've learned, and I, again, we've handled it as good as any state in America and better than most. So even though we've made mistakes we've done a pretty good job of learning about the pandemic and this evolution of knowledge.

The Office of Management and Budget again has been very involved in how we spend our money, that's their job. And so as we had this pressure to have PPEs immediately and a shortage of supply, you know, the federal government certainly was not ready. We were not ready in our own state and no states were ready. We had to go out there and find throughout the world where we could buy PPE and equipment and the necessary things to fight the pandemic. And so we have criticism of no bid contracts but you couldn't have done it without the ability to have an no bid contract. And so again, as we get through that urgency stage we can now go back to traditional RFPs but we would not have had PPEs if we didn't act in a hurry.

We've done much better than most states. Some States actually bought stuff and supplies they never received. We've at least got the supplies and received what we paid for. And I think we did a pretty good job on that. We would do better if we had to do it again now, maybe be better prepared. This is an event that only happens about every hundred years. Nobody in our lifetime has seen this before. So, I'm not too critical about the Office of Management and Budget. They worked with the Department of Health. Certainly, the Department of Health has emerged and they've taken the proper role and the Office of Management and Budgets taking a lesser role. We have a unified command now that spends a meeting every day and empowers 200 people to help and inform for us what to do. And so, again, we're in a good place and I appreciate all the work's been done before.

We made mistakes. Hindsight's 20/20, but I don't know that anybody would have done anything differently sitting in the same position we were at the first of the pandemic. I think that whoever was in the Governor's office or Lieutenant Governor, the legislature would have done pretty much the same thing we did with the information we had at the time.

RAEANN CHRISTENSEN, PBS UTAH: All right Jacob, go ahead with your question.

JACOB KLOPFENSTEIN, KSL.COM:  Good morning, Governor. So, there are some steps being taken to protect teachers obviously with the stipends that are being proposed and then getting the vaccine out to them. But do you think it will adversely affect teacher morale to now say that we're going let kids who have had a close contact stay in the classroom, and how do you keep that teacher morale high so that Utah's kids can keep getting a good education?

GOVERNOR HERBERT: Well, I think teachers want to teach. They want to have the kids in the classroom. They know that they're more effective in teaching in that in-class structure. We know that online we're having some struggles with the kids learning. There's not quite the discipline in their home where they're with parents or absentee parents or whatever their lack of discipline may be.

So, getting kids back in the schoolroom is I think something most teachers would want and would welcome. We need to make sure that they understand there really is not any increased risk. Their schools are really a low risk atmosphere. Everybody's wearing masks. They practice social distancing. Our young people are really trying to do the best they can to make sure that they don't get sick or the other people get sick in the classroom.

It doesn't mean that everybody's going to see it that way, but I think the vast majority, and not only teachers, but principals, superintendents, additional staff members in schools, will think this is a good step in the right direction particularly where we're providing with them, our teachers, the ability to be tested on a regular basis. They get tested every week if they want and make sure that they're okay and protect their own health. And they're going to be right after our healthcare providers, the next in line to get the vaccine. So, that will help give them some confidence I think going forward and hopefully boost morale.

We do appreciate it, and I'll just say again, they've been on the front lines of this issue. It's been a challenge to, of our education system with this pandemic. And our teachers have showed up every day to do their part. And so, we thank them. We recognize their good work.

BEN WINSLOW, FOX 13: Governor, as you look back on the state's COVID 19 response are there any restrictions or any policies that you would have liked to have implemented perhaps earlier or perhaps later, or any policies that didn't get considered that you think should have been? 

GOVERNOR HERBERT: You know, people want to have me say I wished I had made a statewide mandate on masks earlier, and I'm not ready to say that. Again, mask wearing certainly has been a benefit and the studies show that it works, particularly mask on mask and it minimizes risk. It's not risk-free, you can still get sick if you're wearing a mask, you could still catch the Coronavirus, but it minimizes the risk, and the studies we just had out of the University of Utah shows that mask on mask, we reduce risk by 70 to 80%.

That being said, you would hope that people would make the decision that's best for themselves. And that means to protect your health. You'd hope people in fact would say, "What can I do to be a part of the solution and not be a part of the problem?" I've been a little disappointed in some that have made this a more of a political issue when it should be just a sense of individual responsibility and respect for our neighbors.

Our religious leaders have stepped forward and said many times, you know, "Social distance, wear the mask, show respect for your fellow man." And they've been in fact pushed back on by members of their own congregations. So that's been a little bit disappointing to me, but I think we would give people the opportunity to make the right decisions first. And then we ought to do that before government comes in and says "We will mandate you do something." We've had, we've done it, and I'm glad we've done it. It'll stay in place for at least the near term but we've learned along the way. And I think people have learned to respect their neighbors and have a little more compassion.

RAEANN CHRISTENSEN, PBS UTAH:  All right, Governor Herbert. We are out of time and we want to to thank you so much for 11 1/2 years and everything you've done for PBS Utah.

GOVERNOR HERBERT:  Well, I thank you. It's been a great honor for me to serve the great people of Utah for these 11 1/2 years as Governor.

RAEANN CHRISTENSEN, PBS UTAH: All right, thank you so much.


ANNOUNCER: This has been "The Governor's Monthly News Conference." An archive of transcripts, video and audio is available online. Please visit pbsutah.org/governor.

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