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Gov. Herbert Urges Wearing Masks, But Won't Mandate Them

Photo of Gov. Gary Herbert wearing a face covering.
Laura Seitz
Deseret News / Pool Photo
Gov. Gary Herbert has opted not to mandate masks in public across the state, and instead issued a challenge to Utahns to follow social distancing guidelines more closely.

Gov. Gary Herbert announced Thursday that he will not mandate face coverings in public places across the state, the day after the state reported a record number of daily cases. Herbert instead issued a “challenge” to Utahns to wear face masks in public and comply with social distancing guidelines, to get to less than 500 new daily cases by August 1. 

“It’s time for us to say, for the good of the whole, we’re going to comply voluntarily when we go out,” Herbert said. “Let’s do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do.”

He warned that if the new daily cases goal isn’t met, the state could go back to stricter social distancing mandates and require masks. 

Herbert also announced Thursday that students, teachers, and faculty in public schools will be required to wear masks in school buildings and on buses. 

Democratic legislative leaders, as well as the mayors of Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County, have urged Herbert to adopt a state-wide mandate. Herbert has granted requests to require masks in Summit, Salt Lake, and Grand counties. Masks are also required in state buildings like the Capitol and liquor stores. On Tuesday, Utah’s hospital association sent a letter to legislative leaders asking them to require face coverings. 

The state’s public health guidelines recommend masks in public places where it’s not possible to socially distance, which is staying at least 6 feet away from others. 

Republican legislative leadership met with Herbert Tuesday, and released statements Wednesday evening opposing a state-wide mandate and encouraging voluntary compliance. 

“As legislators, we are working to strike a balance between policies that protect public health and citizens' rights,” said Utah Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton. “Let us rise to the occasion and do what we can, proudly and willingly.”

Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, added that local governments should make decisions about mask mandates. 

“I believe it’s prudent to stop short of issuing a statewide government mandate, because doing so would apply the same policy to our most heavily populated areas as our rural areas and areas with different rates of infection,” Wilson said in a statement. “Local officials are better positioned to make data driven decisions regarding face masks that are tailored to their communities.”

Ten rural counties are in green, or new normal, phase of public health guidelines. The rest of the state is under yellow or low risk guidelines, except for Salt Lake City which has remained in orange or moderate risk since early May.

Sonja Hutson is a politics and government reporter at KUER.
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