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Salt Lake County Decides Not To Issue A New Mask Mandate, But Salt Lake City Will

Salt Lake County Council Chair Steve DeBry announced Wednesday the council would not be issuing a new mask mandate.
Salt Lake County Council Screenshot
Salt Lake County Council Chair Steve DeBry announced Wednesday the council would not be issuing a new mask mandate.

The Salt Lake County Council will not issue a new mask mandatewhen the state’s ends on Saturday. Under the law that repeals the statewide requirement, only each county’s legislative body has the power to issue a new county-wide directive.

Republican Council Chair Steve DeBry said the council decided against issuing one after Salt Lake County Health Director Gary Edwards told them it was no longer necessary, citing a decrease in cases and increase in vaccinations.

“From the beginning, I have said that the council should follow the data,” DeBry said. “Government is not mandating that citizens wear masks. We encourage you to choose to do so when and where it is prudent. Together, we can return to normal and enjoy those activities we did before COVID-19.”

Salt Lake County has a moderate level of COVID-19 transmission on the state’s index. Roughly 20% of county residents are fully vaccinated and about 34% have had at least one dose of the vaccine.

“A primary reason public health has utilized orders during the pandemic was to minimize the impact on the health care system and to assure health care was available to everyone,” Edwards wrote in his letter to the council. “The age groups at greatest risk have now had many weeks to be vaccinated and over 80% are at least partially vaccinated, and we are seeing large decreases in both hospitalization and death in these populations.”

Masks will still be required in schools across Utah and at events with 50 or more people where physical distancing isn’t possible.

Private businesses can choose whether to require masks.

“When you go into a business that is asking you to wear a mask, please do so respectfully,” Republican Councilmember Aimee Winder-Newton said. “We will have people out and about who may be in masks or may not be, but we need to all make sure we're treating each other with the utmost respect as we continue to get through this pandemic.”

County Mayor Jenny Wilson said residents should still wear masks in public regardless of the county council’s decision.

“We still have two-thirds of our residents not yet immunized from the vaccine,” Wilson said. And it'll take several months, if not longer, until that happens. So, yeah, for a little bit longer, I really believe that we need to continue wearing masks.”

DeBry said the council will continue to monitor case counts and hospitalizations, and could institute a mandate down the line if necessary.

Just after Salt Lake County’s announcement, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall announced she would be issuing a citywide mandate using her emergency powers.

“Here in Salt Lake City, only a quarter of the residents in Glendale and Rose Park have received at least one dose of the vaccine, compared to about 50% in the Avenues and the East Bench,” Mendenhall said. “That data, coupled with warnings from epidemiologists about the rapid spread of the highly contagious covid variance, is enough to tell me that we need to keep doing what has worked: wearing masks.”

She said the citywide mandate does not violate the state law. Mendenhall argued the law outlines how counties should approach issuing their own mandates, and doesn’t expressly prohibit cities from creating their own.

The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Sonja Hutson is a politics and government reporter at KUER.
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