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Pandemic ‘Endgame’ Nears After Utah Legislature Advances Bill To Stop Statewide Mask Mandate

An illustration of a crowd on the street wearing masks.
A bill sponsored by Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, seeks to find an end date for pandemic restrictions.

An end to statewide pandemic restrictions is in sight, after the Utah House passed a bill Wednesday outlining a timeline.

If two-thirds of House and Senate members support the bill — and the governor signs it — the statewide mask mandate will end immediately. Though, a county council could vote to keep a mask mandate.

However, school mask requirements would end July 1. Additional restrictions on gatherings would go away once the state reaches certain thresholds: less than 450 cases per day, less than 15% of ICU capacity is for COVID-19 patients and the state has received 1.63 million doses of vaccines.

The bill would leave the state’s emergency declaration in place — just none of the restrictions. Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, sponsored the bill. He said the declaration is needed for Utah to continue receiving vaccines.

Ray said there’s been a lot of negotiations on the bill between the Legislature, governor’s office and the state health department.

“This is what our constituents have been asking for — what does it look like, how do we get out of the pandemic,” Ray said. “I can tell you it’s not exactly where I’d like it to be, but I can guarantee it’s not where the [Utah] Department of Health would like it to be, also.”

Rep. Suzanne Harrison, D-Draper, is a doctor and a member of the Utah Medical Association. She called the bill government overreach and said it should be left to medical professionals.

“This is an ongoing pandemic. We all want to get back to normal,” Harrison said. “But I don’t think us legislating this prescriptive type of language is going to help our economy or help the people of Utah.”

Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, unsuccessfully tried to change the bill to remove masks in schools immediately. He said it’s cruel to make kids wear them and called face coverings a “symbol.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continue to recommend wearing masks to prevent transmission of COVID-19. Researchers at Brigham Young University have also concluded that masks are safe and reduce the spread of the virus.

The bill now needs a final vote in the Senate.

Rep. Suzanne Harrison is also a member of KUER’s Advisory Board.

Emily Means is a government and politics reporter at KUER.
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