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Reporting from the St. George area focused on local government, public lands and the environment, indigenous issues and faith and spirituality.

Grand County Says It Will Report Employers Who Defy Statewide Mask Mandate

A sign with a map of downtown moab and two people looking in a shop window.
Kate Groetzinger
Grand County has had a mask mandate in place since August, but has not actively enforced it. Now, it plans to report non-compliant businesses to the state.

Grand County announced that it will crack down on businesses that defy the statewide mask mandate that went into effect last week. It requires employers to make their workers wear masks, and to post proper signage encouraging patrons to wear them.

The county has had its own mask mandate in place since August, according to Grand County Commissioner Mary McGann. But local officials haven't actively enforced it, she said, because they worried the health order could be overturned by the state if businesses complained.

“We didn’t have the state’s support,” McGann said. “[A business] could have cried to the governor, cried to our representatives, and [the state] could have overruled anything Grand County did.”

The state refused to allow Grand County to limit overnight lodging in the spring.

Mask wearing went up when the county passed it’s current mask mandate, McGann said, but there are still a handful of businesses defying the order. And the statewide mandate makes it easier for local officials to act — especially with cases on the rise.

The Southeast Utah Health Department sent out letters last week warning businesses that they need to come into compliance with the state law, according to environmental health director Orion Rogers.

“Now that hospitals are full, and we don't have anywhere to send people, it just simply was time to become a little more firm but still give this last warning to our businesses,” Rogers said.

The Moab Regional Hospital transfers critical patients to St. Mary’s hospital in Grand Junction, according to the hospital’s CEO Jen Sadoff. And she said St. Mary’s has rejected multiple transfer requests in the past week, because its ICU has been full. When that happens, the hospital looks to the University of Utah Hospital, which is also reaching capacity.

“We have been told we should reevaluate our crisis standards of care and be prepared to really justify transferring patients,” Sadoff said. “[The receiving hospitals] will be looking at whether people have comorbidities or other things that make it so they are less likely to survive.”

Sadoff said enforcing mask mandates is one of the best ways to slow the curve, since masks are very effective and there’s evidence people in Moab are catching COVID-19 through their place of work.

Rogers said the county attorney has reported businesses that are not complying with the mask mandate to the state Labor Commission, which can conduct investigations into businesses and issue fines. Grand County can also fine businesses up to $10,000 every day they aren’t in compliance, according to a notice sent out by the health department.

Kate joined KUER from Austin, Texas. She has a master's degree in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin’s Moody School of Communication. She has been an intern, fellow and reporter at Texas Monthly, the Texas Observer, Quartz, the Texas Standard and Voces, an oral history project. Kate began her public radio career at Austin’s NPR station, KUT, as a part-time reporter. She served as a corps member of Report For America, a public service program that partners with local newsrooms to bring reporters to undercovered areas across the country.
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