SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Democratic candidate for governor Chris Peterson released a statement calling on Gov. Gary Herbert to remove Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox as the head of the Utah COVID-19 Community Task Force. This comes just after the state reported its highest single-day increase of 1,117 cases Friday.
The statement also comes just days before the first gubernatorial debate between Cox and Peterson.
“It’s clear now that our response has not been adequate,” Peterson told KSL NewsRadio. “The number of coronavirus cases is spiking, and the infection rates are comparable to what we’ve seen in the most disaster-prone areas of the country including New York City and down in the Navajo Nation.”
The primary role of the lieutenant governor in Utah is to oversee elections and lobbyist activity, according to the state constitution. However, Peterson said he believes Cox has “crossed out of his lane” by overtaking the position as head of the task force — usurping the function of the Department of Health.
“In my view, we need to turn to having the public health officials lead this public health crisis,” he said. “It’s critical that we get this dangerous virus under control and it’s not happening.”
Peterson said the responsibilities of the COVID Task Force have been too vague, arguing action from the state government hasn’t been immediate enough.
The Democratic candidate criticized the state response that he said was “hijacked by unproven and ineffective treatments” — also pointing to testing delays, technological issues with cell phone tracing and “insufficient” personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline workers.
“I mean no disrespect to the lieutenant governor, I like him. He’s a nice person,” Peterson said. “It seems to me that we need to follow our traditions and constitutional order and let the Department of Public Health lead in a public health crisis.”
Utah’s newest COVID-19 record comes just one day after its previous record was set — with 911 cases reported Thursday. Gov. Herbert responded to the sudden uptick, noting the state needs to redouble its efforts and “consider the common public good” to avoid a second wave.
The longer we go without a statewide mask mandate, the more people will get sick & die.
— Team Peterson (@TeamPetersonUT) September 18, 2020
The rolling 7-day testing positive rate for Utah sits at 12.5% — another record high for Utah.
If Cox doesn’t step down from the position, Peterson said he wants to see changes from the COVID Task Force. Part of this would include contract tracing expansion, increased testing and more access to PPE.
“If we don’t act, people are going to suffer,” Peterson said.
Cox responded to the statement Friday evening — telling KSL NewsRadio he doesn’t look at the pandemic response as “political or partisan.”
“Gov. Herbert and Lt. Gov. Cox are working closely with medical professionals, policy makers and citizens across the state to protect public health and rebuild the economy,” Cox’s campaign said in a statement.
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