SALT LAKE CITY — House Speaker Brad Wilson and Senate President J. Stuart Adams are opposing a statewide face mask mandate.
The day after FOX 13 reported they had met with Governor Gary Herbert, who raised the possibility of a statewide face covering mandate, the two most powerful lawmakers on Utah's Capitol Hill issued separate statements announcing their opposition.
"While Utah has made significant progress combating COVID-19, we need to remember that this pandemic is far from over. The most effective way for us to keep our economy moving, to open schools, play team sports and to get back to normal life is to wear a mask when social distancing is not practical. While they pose a minor inconvenience, I am committed to leading by example, as have many legislators," Speaker Wilson said in his statement, released late Wednesday.
"However, I believe it’s prudent to stop short of issuing a statewide government mandate, because doing so would apply the same policy to our most heavily populated areas as our rural areas and areas with different rates of infection. Local officials are better positioned to make data driven decisions regarding face masks that are tailored to their communities."
Gov. Herbert has been quiet about what he plans to do. He met with his COVID-19 Unified Command on Wednesday, where the issue was discussed. An announcement could come Thursday.
So far, Salt Lake, Summit and Grand counties have enacted their own face mask mandates -- with permission from the governor. So has the town of Springdale. Under Utah law, local governments cannot be more restrictive than the state unless the governor gives special dispensation.
"Mandating masks raises questions of enforcement and punishment. As legislators, we are working to strike a balance between policies that protect public health and citizens' rights. Let us rise to the occasion and do what we can, proudly and willingly. I am asking you to help out by wearing a mask voluntarily," Sen. Adams said in his statement.
"I will continue to be committed to wearing a mask to protect the vulnerable and help all Utahns safely return to school and work. I encourage everyone – individuals, companies, organizations, non-profits – in the state to do the same. While we all would prefer not to wear masks, this is an opportunity for Utahns to unite and make a difference in our state’s fight against this virus. We have overcome difficult times before, and we will do it again. As we commit to temporarily changing habits and doing our part by wearing masks in public, we can decrease the rate of COVID-19 cases and save lives."
The legislative leaders stances are at odds with more than 100 business organizations and the Utah Hospital Association, which have asked the governor to impose a mandate as COVID-19 cases surge. On Tuesday, Utah saw a record-breaking 722 new cases of coronavirus in the state and seven new deaths.