SOUTH SALT LAKE, Utah — At Chinatown Supermarket, customers line up with their hands outstretched. A helpful attendant gives them each a little squirt of hand sanitizer. then takes their temperature. Face coverings are mandatory to shop.
"We actually give them a free mask if they don’t have one and most of them, they are happy to wear them," Andrew So, the owner of Chinatown Supermarket, said in an interview Friday with FOX 13.
Online, Chinatown Supermarket has been getting rave reviews for its tough hygiene policies to slow the spread of COVID-19. So said there have only been a few upset customers. Most have told cashiers and managers they feel safer than other places.
"I truly believe wearing a mask can protect against the spread, the transmission of the virus," he said.
Other businesses will be following Chinatown Supermarket's practices this weekend when Salt Lake and Summit counties implement new health orders that mandate face coverings. Governor Gary Herbert late Thursday granted requests by the Summit County Council and Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson.
Mayor Wilson issued her order Friday afternoon. The Summit County Council met in an emergency session late Friday and unanimously approved its ordinance.
The mandates, which go into effect just after midnight Saturday, require anyone shops or works at a public-facing business to wear a face covering. It also applies to any community gathering and outdoors only when physical distancing from others is not possible. For restaurants, people must wear masks as they wait for a table. They can remove them when they sit down to dine.
The orders have exemptions for things like children and those with disabilities. Summit County has said violations can be an infraction (on par with a traffic ticket). Salt Lake County's order is a misdemeanor crime. However, Mayor Wilson has insisted any penalties would be education and reserved fines only for egregious violations.
Mayor Wilson, who has been pushing for a face mask mandate, said she believes it will help Salt Lake County slow the spread of COVID-19. Statewide, Utah's Department of Health has documented a surge in cases. Friday brought another record-breaking day with 676 new positive cases and two new deaths. So far, the state has recorded 20,050 positive cases of COVID-19 in Utah since the beginning of the pandemic and 166 deaths.
Many businesses have already started implementing their own mandates. Harmons Grocery, one of the state's largest supermarket chains, announced Friday it would mandate face coverings for shoppers at all of its stores effective July 5.
"I think it does help a business that is really interested in protecting their customers and employees to be able to say 'Look, it’s not just a store requirement. It’s a requirement of Salt Lake County, please comply or we’ll ask you to leave,'" said Gary Edwards, the director of the Salt Lake County Health Department.
So said he appreciated Mayor Wilson's mandate.
"I feel happy about the recommendation by the mayor because we don’t feel alone and we don’t feel isolated or we wouldn’t feel embarrassed to ask people to wear a mask to come into our store," he told FOX 13. "All the customers will understand that’s a need."
Gov. Herbert has also issued his own executive order mandating face coverings in all state-run facilities including liquor stores, driver license offices and college campuses. But he has declined to implement a statewide mandate, preferring to have local leaders request it of the COVID-19 unified command (and he gets the final decision).
But some are not happy with the idea of a mandate. More than 100 people demonstrated at the Utah State Capitol against face covering mandates on Thursday night, calling people who wore them (including reporters covering the event) "sheep."
Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs, who is challenging Mayor Wilson in November's election, questioned the mandate in a statement to FOX 13.
"As we continue the fight against COVID-19, I absolutely encourage our residents to wear masks when they can’t be adequately distanced from others," Mayor Staggs said. "I do become uncomfortable when the reaction of government is to issue broad mandates, even if the intent might be good. It is not feasible to broadly enforce a mask mandate in Salt Lake County. From what I understand, the county is stating that the goal of the mandate is not enforcement or to penalize anyone. If there is no intent by county officials to enforce their mandate, then what is the purpose of the mandate?"
Mayor Staggs said he preferred an outreach campaign.
In a sign that even those who want to loosen COVID-19 restrictions in the state are backing face coverings, the Utah State Legislature's Public Health and Economic Emergency Commission, committed $1 million on Friday to a public awareness campaign.
The commission has pushed hard for Utah to move to a "green" risk level for COVID-19. In a statement, Senate Majority Whip Dan Hemmert, R-Orem, said restrictions could loosen further -- if people wore a mask.
"I encourage Utahns to wear masks to help protect neighbors, friends, families and communities," he wrote. "Wearing a mask is a simple act to protect vulnerable populations and livelihoods. If wearing a mask means we can continue to lighten other restrictions we're living under, economic and otherwise, and it means our kids can go back to school this fall, I'm happy to wear a mask."
Read Salt Lake County's health order here: