Masks will soon ‘likely’ be mandatory in Salt Lake County

Coronavirus Updates

SALT LAKE COUNTY, Utah (ABC4 News)- UPDATE: Governor Herbert approved Salt Lake County’s request Thursday evening.

Citing the power of local control, Governor Herbert says he will “likely grant” Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson’s request to mandate mask wearing in public.

The governor says he is meeting with health care leaders to review Mayor Wilson’s request and “If the data supports the request, [he] intends to approve it.”

The request to General Burton states the following:

  1. Salt Lake County has had 100 confirmed cases reported or above per day since June 2. This past week (June 17-19), Salt Lake County experienced a series of several days of 200+ confirmed cases per day. As mentioned in the previous letter, studies have shown that the risk of transmission falls from 17.4% for an individual not wearing a mask to 3.1%. Mandatory wearing of face coverings in public would significantly reduce the risk of community spread.
  2. The number of hospitalized in Salt Lake County has increased significantly. On May 29, there were 74 individuals hospitalized in Salt Lake County due to COVID-19. On June 22, there were 113 individuals hospitalized, an increase of 40% over the past 25 days. While the hospitals currently have capacity for COVID-19 patients, our concern is that continued increase in hospitalization will further stress our healthcare systems, having cascading effects across the state. With a reduced risk of transmission by individuals wearing face coverings, we can pre-emptively reduce future stress on the medical system, allowing hospitals to operate without resorting to crisis standards of care.
  3. Our testing and contact tracing systems are under a significant amount of stress due to the rise of potential and actual cases in Salt Lake County. Utah and Salt Lake County are leaders in the nation for testing, with 12,000+ tests completed per week in Salt Lake County alone. With an increase number of tests being completed and a better operating picture of the spread of COVID-19 being understood comes the additional stress of being able to conduct meaningful investigations.

During the state’s weekly COVID-19 briefing on Wednesday, the governor referred to data that he says “clearly shows that the simple courtesy of wearing a mask in public when social distancing is not possible is a very effective and low-cost way to prevent the spread of disease.”

The study he referred to by Lancet found face mask use could result in a large reduction in risk of infection.

As a result Gov. Herbert said he is requiring mask wearing at all state facilities.

The governor said other counties that wish to make masks mandatory should “bring their data and analysis to the Utah Department of Health if they believe there is a need to vary from current guidelines.”

After the press conference, the mayor of Salt Lake City formally requested masks be required for Salt Lake City.

The source of contention over who has the authority to initiate making wearing a mask mandatory has to do with language in a bill that passed in the first special session this year.

It states “if the governor adopts, by order, a recommendation made by the commission, the adopted recommendation supersedes any portion of a local ordinance or order that is more.”

From the beginning of the pandemic, the state was never under an order. It was under a “Stay Safe, Stay home” directive.

As a result, some local governments made stronger recommendations, but now that parts of the state are categorized in different risk phases there’s growing controversy over who can make wearing a mask a mandate.

On Wednesday, ABC4 spoke with Sen. Daniel Hemmert, Utah State Senate Majority Whip. Hemmert was the chief sponsor of the bill. In a phone interview he said, ” the way the bill is written, the governor is the boss. The counties and the cities are what are called political subdivisions of the state meaning they were created by the state. So, the state still has authority over those counties and cities.”

However, on Tuesday, ABC4 spoke with the Utah League of Cities and Towns who said local leaders do have the authority to initiate a mask ban.

ABC4 is continuing to follow this story and will post updates as they become available.

Don’t have a mask? The state has a goal to get ‘A Mask for every Utahn.’

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