GOVERNMENT

UPDATED: Utah House overturns Salt Lake, Summit county mask mandates

Jan 21, 2022, 11:20 AM | Updated: Jan 22, 2022, 8:52 am
overturn mask mandates...
Eighth grade students and their teacher wear masks during their dual language class at Mount Jordan Middle School in Sandy on Monday, Jan. 10, 2022, as Salt Lake County has issued a 30-day mask order. (Mengshin Lin/Deseret News)
(Mengshin Lin/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah House of Representatives has voted to overturn public mask mandates in Salt Lake and Summit counties today. 

Before the 45-29 vote to overturn, the news was confirmed to KSL Newsradio and the Deseret News by House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, Friday morning. He says many members of the House Majority Caucus have asked to have an opportunity to vote on this.

Working with the Salt Lake County Council

Wilson says the House has been quietly working with the Salt Lake County Council to make this happen.

“They’re good people —they’re just having a hard time getting all on the same page,” Wilson told KSL Newsradio. “The widespread belief in our caucus is that masks make a lot of sense for people, but we believe it’s an individual choice if they want them.”

The Salt Lake County Council did not overturn the mask mandate last week in a special meeting, mainly after Council Chair Laurie Stringham said she wouldn’t vote to overturn it.

Stringham’s biggest complaint was that state lawmakers had given local leaders no other tools than “keep” or “remove”.

With today’s news, Stringham issued this statement: 

“I am dedicated to keeping our community open and our residents healthy. As our workforce diminishes and hospitals fill with COVID patients, I will continue to look for ways to help our community with this local issue. After discussing the need to help with schools, first responders, healthcare and businesses with the Speaker yesterday, it was disappointing to see the State interfere with local decisions dedicated to the well-being of Salt Lake County residents, without any other solutions offered. I will continue to look for solutions to getting us through the next few weeks and urge people to take the necessary precautions to protect the health of you and your families.”

Wilson says the mask mandate has really been the source of a lot of division.

“The vast majority of our state has the same covid transmission rates as Salt Lake County, but there’s something really different about what’s happening in the rest of our state,” Wilson says. “There’s not the division, there’s not the contention because of a government-imposed mask mandate.”

Support for the mandate’s removal

The Speaker, Majority Leader Mike Schultz, Majority Whip Jefferson Moss, and the Majority Assistant Whip Val Peterson released the following statement:

A statement from the Majority Caucus leadership about the mask mandate removal.

Salt Lake County Councilwoman Dea Theodore, who voted against the mandate in last week’s county council meeting, released a statement as well: 

“This is a victory for rationality and liberty. The state legislature prudently reserved the authority to prevent the decisions of one or two local officials from restricting the personal freedoms of approximately 1.5 million Utah residents. It is a shame they were forced to exercise that authority, but I am pleased that the rights of every Utah resident to make their own health decisions have been preserved.”

The Governor expressed his support for the removal of the mandate on KSL Newsradio’s Let Me Speak to the Governor, just moments after the vote.

Opposition to the mandate’s removal

The Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson came out strong against lawmakers’ actions this morning, calling them “misguided.”

“Please continue to wear good-quality masks while in public,” Mayor Wilson said in a statement. “We are at very high rates of COVID spread and we are hopeful to have the Omicron variant of the virus behind us soon.  Health experts agree masks worn properly help contain the spread of COVID.”

County Health Director Dr. Angela Dunn’s statement was more subdued, not addressing the legislature’s actions outright, but calling for people to prioritize their health and the health of those around them.

“Effectively protecting our most vulnerable community members—and ensuring that our businesses and essential services have the staff necessary to operate—requires layering our various prevention tools; this includes being up to date on the vaccine, staying home when ill, and wearing a respirator mask in public during this surge. We encourage Salt Lake County residents and visitors to do these things, regardless of whether or not a mandate is in place.”

The Utah Democratic Party also made their disagreement with their fellow lawmakers on Capitol Hill known. 

“This resolution is a complete and total affront to the role of local elected officials in making decisions that are right for their communities,” said Utah Democratic Party Chair Diane Lewis in a statement. “With COVID-19 cases skyrocketing across the state, leaders in Salt Lake and Summit Counties, as well as Salt Lake City, used the authority given to them by the legislature just last year to institute temporary mask mandates, at the recommendation of local health departments, that will help mitigate the ongoing public health crisis. But Republicans at the Capitol decided that they know better than the experts and local leaders, and they bypassed the usual committee process to unilaterally impose their will on the people of Utah without even allowing a public hearing on the issue. The Republican Party cannot be trusted to respect the decisions of voters and the local leaders they’ve elected.”

What else?

Even with the mask mandate being removed for the two counties, businesses can still require masks should they desire. The vote does eliminate the mask requirement in Salt Lake City schools.

The Utah Jazz and Vivint Arena will no longer require masks unless fans are sitting near the players’ benches — then they do have to mask up. The arena still requires proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test.

Lindsay Aerts and Katie McKellar contributed to the reporting of this article.

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UPDATED: Utah House overturns Salt Lake, Summit county mask mandates