UPDATED: Target, Albertsons join other retailers requiring masks; southwest Utah COVID-19 cases wane

ST. GEORGE — Five major retailers with a large reach in Southern Utah will soon require customers to wear face coverings as a preventative measure against the coronavirus.

Outside the Walmart store in Washington City, Utah, on July 15, 2020. | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Walmart, Smith’s Food and Drug and Kohl’s announced Wednesday that they will be requiring that customers wear masks or they will not be permitted in the store. 

On Thursday, Target and Albertsons grocery stores also announced they will be requiring all customers to wear masks.

The new measures come as the Southwest Utah Public Health Department said greater mask use is a factor in a growing drop in the daily average of new COVID-19 infections. Wednesday saw the first time since June 9 that Southern Utah has seen fewer than 20 new coronavirus cases in a day. 

Walmart was the first to announce the mandatory mask measure in its stores. The retailer, which has stores in St. George, Washington City, Cedar City and Mesquite, Nevada, said Wednesday that the requirement will begin Monday, July 20, as will Kohl’s. Albertsons will begin Tuesday, Smith’s on Wednesday and Target will be starting Aug. 1.

At the Walmart location in Washington City on Wednesday afternoon, St. George News noted 29 out of 50 customers not wearing masks. A manager inside the store declined to comment, directing any inquiries to Walmart’s corporate office.

The Kohl’s clothing store in Washington City, Utah, on July 15, 2020. | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

In a statement, Dacona Smith, chief operating officer of Walmart, said the move was to provide consistency with Walmarts in other locations that have statewide mask requirements as well as Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines that have said masks may help deter the spread of the virus.

“While we’re certainly not the first business to require face coverings, we know this is a simple step everyone can take for their safety and the safety of others in our facilities,” Smith said. “We know some people have differing opinions on this topic. We also recognize the role we can play to help protect the health and well-being of the communities we serve by following the evolving guidance of health officials like the CDC.”

Walmart said it will have a “health ambassador” situated at the entrance of stores to see if patrons are wearing masks. If they are not, Walmart said the ambassadors will work with customers “to try and find a solution.”

While Utah does not have a statewide mask mandate, it does require face coverings to be worn by everyone inside state-run facilities, and on July 9, Gov. Gary Herbert announced all students, staff, teachers and visitors in K-12 schools will be required to wear masks.

Chart shows the rise in cases in Southern Utah from the coronavirus from May 1 to July 15, 2020 according to the Southwest Utah Public Health Department. Click to enlarge. | Chart by Chris Reed, St. George News

Herbert is expected to release the order itself along with more details on the school mask mandate Thursday morning. That order has drawn criticism from some parents, including a local group, Moms Against Masks, which protested outside a Washington County School Board meeting Tuesday

Herbert has also said if Utah’s daily average of new cases is not below 500 by Aug. 1, he will likely opt to mandate masks statewide and increase the coronavirus risk level back up to orange.

For the first time since July 9, the state’s seven-day average dipped below 600 to an average of 589.

Later Wednesday after Walmart made its announcement mandating masks, the Kroger Company, the parent firm of Smith’s Food and Drug, said it will also be requiring all patrons to wear masks at its stores starting on July 22.

Smith’s has two locations in St. George, as well as markets in Cedar City and Mesquite.

Kohl’s, which has a clothing store in Washington City, followed suit with a similar announcement that they will begin mask requirement for all customers on Monday. 

Rise in preventative measures driving down new cases

On Wednesday, Washington County saw something it has not seen since June 1: Less than 10 new people who could say they have the coronavirus. 

Cars line up for COVID-19 tests at the Intermountain drive-thru coronavirus testing site outside the InstaCare in Cedar City, Utah, on July 14, 2020. | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

There were eight new infections in Washington County announced by the Southwest Utah Public Health Department Wednesday and 18 more overall in Southern Utah.

One of the biggest reasons, Southwest Utah Public Health Department spokesperson David Heaton said, are local residents heeding the challenge to start wearing face coverings and practicing more social distancing. 

“Likely factors include more mask-wearing, subsiding of surge possibly related to July 4 holiday and completion of testing in Purgatory outbreak,” Heaton said. “Several more days in a row of lower numbers could indicate a promising decline.”

A number that has been steady has been the increasing number of cases in Southern Utah. There have now been 19 people who have died of the coronavirus in Southern Utah, nearly doubling the previous number since the start of the month. On Tuesday, the first person in Iron County since March 27 was reported to have died of the virus, while the Utah Department of Health reported the first resident of Garfield County to have died of COVID-19 on Sunday. 

The number of local people hospitalized with the virus, which was down as low as nine on Tuesday, jumped back up to 12 on Wednesday. 

“Our message would be to stay the course on precautions to keep the spread low as we go into fall with schools starting and cold and flu season,” Heaton said.

Updated July 16, 2020, 10:30 a.m. to include Target and Albertsons announcement.

COVID-19 information resources

St. George News has made every effort to ensure the information in this story is accurate at the time it was written. However, as the situation and science surrounding the coronavirus continues to evolve, it’s possible that some data has changed.

We invite you to check the resources below for up-to-date information and resources.

Southern Utah coronavirus count (as of July 15, 2020, seven-day average in parentheses)

Positive COVID-19 tests: 2,158 (45.4 new infections per day in seven days, dropping)

  • Washington County: 1,709 (35.7 per day, dropping)
  • Iron County: 391 (7.4 per day, rising)
  • Garfield County: 20 (0.3 per day, dropping) 
  • Kane County: 26 (2.0 per day, rising)
  • Beaver County: 12 (0.0 per day, dropping) 

Deaths: 19 (0.7 per day, steady)

  • Washington County: 15 
  • Iron County: 2
  • Garfield County: 2

Hospitalized: 182 

Recovered: 1,458

Current Utah seven-day average (Goal of less than 500 by Aug. 1 ): 589 (dropping)

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!