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Will Salt Lake County’s mask mandate stand? The Republican-led council will decide.

Illustration of people wearing masks
The Salt Lake County Council devoted a lot of time to discussing the county’s recent mask mandate Tuesday evening, despite its absence from the agenda.

The Salt Lake County Council will most likely vote on the health department’s 30-day mask mandate at a special meeting later this week.

The mandate was issued Jan. 7 in response to a surge in COVID-19 cases due to the highly transmissible omicron variant.

The order requires respirators, like KN95 masks, in public spaces, though there are exemptions for children under two and people who are actively eating or drinking.

Some council members tried to overturn it during their meeting Tuesday, but they didn’t have the votes. There were additional administrative hurdles because Council Chair Laurie Stringham had declined to put it on the agenda.

Councilmember Dave Alvord, the Republican who initiated the vote, tried to poke holes in the public health order.

“The virus doesn't say, ‘Oh, you're eating. I'm not going to spread today,’” Alvord said. “I don't see a lot of science in this order. It doesn't seem like it was very well crafted or thought through.”

The ball is in the council’s court. However, a state law also allows legislators to take action.

Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, said at this point, he’s not aware of any proposals to strike it down during the general session, which starts next week.

“By the time we get in session, their mandate will have been in place for a few weeks,” Wilson said. “My personal preference is that we let the Salt Lake County Council manage this in their county, at least for the next month, and we'll see how it goes.”

Wilson said he believes requiring masks will have the opposite effect. His advice to Salt Lake County is to “call on people to wear a mask because they think it's the right thing to do.”

The council will likely reconvene before the end of the week to vote on the mandate. If they don’t overturn it, the order will expire on Feb. 7.

Emily Means is a government and politics reporter at KUER.
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