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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A rural county commissioner apologized after comparing Utah Gov. Gary Herbert to Hitler in a social media post after the Republican governor gave approval to two counties to mandate masks in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Piute County Commissioner Darin Bushman tweeted Thursday night: "“Hang on friends, it won’t be long before you are required to do a Sieg Heil Salute to Herbert. Welcome to Utah now extend your right arm straight at 45 degrees keeping your hand parallel to your arm and offer your ‘Heil Herbert.’”

He added the hashtags “Nazi” and “Masks” above a picture of Nazi followers saluting leaders.

Bushman later deleted the post and tweeted: “Sorry if you found my tweet offensive. I have removed it so as not to further offend. My apologies.”

He rejected calls by critics who tweeted that he should resign. A message left for Bushman at a main number at the Piute County offices was not returned. The rural county counts about 1,500 people.

Herbert has resisted calls to make face coverings mandatory statewide, instead giving counties the opportunity to ask his permission to enact the requirements in their areas. He approved requests in Utah's most populated county, Salt Lake County, and in Summit County, home to the ski town of Park City.

Herbert said in a statement Friday that Bushman's comment lacked civility needed no matter how strongly people disagree.

“Drawing comparisons between a widely accepted public health practice during a pandemic and Hitler’s brutal authoritarianism is beyond the pale,” the statement said. “It can only have the effect of polarizing an important and substantive policy debate. And, as has been recognized by leaders in Utah’s Jewish community, it grossly trivializes the experience of the Holocaust.”

About 100 people protested Thursday night to show their displeasure with the mask requirement and other restrictions Herbert and state leaders have imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Among them was former Republican state House speaker Greg Hughes, a vocal Trump supporter running to replace Herbert in November.

Herbert isn't seeking re-election after holding the position since 2009.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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