SALT LAKE CITY — In a statement late Sunday, Salt Lake County Council Chair Laurie Stringham reiterated what her office told FOX 13 on Friday: she will not call a special meeting to vote on whether to override the mask mandate issued by the health department.
"We have lines hours and miles long for COVID-19 testing. We have many schools who have hit the test to stay requirement or are expected to be there by week’s end. We are hearing from mayors who can no longer fully staff fire stations, essential positions, and their police officers are all in overtime," Chair Stringham said in her statement. "Our healthcare workers and first responders are facing staffing shortages for several reasons, including illness. Many companies are already taking the precaution of sending employees home to work and putting back prior health protections for their employees."
By not putting the issue on the agenda for a vote, the public health order issued by the Salt Lake County Health Department and signed by Mayor Jenny Wilson went into effect. The Utah State Legislature severely restricted the ability of local health departments to issue mask mandates. They can issue an order, but a county commission or county council can vote to override it.
The Salt Lake County Council did just that last year when it overrode a mask mandate for K-12 schools. This time around, some Republican council members have changed their views on a mandate because of the sheer volume of omicron variant cases in the community, leading to hospitals being overwhelmed.
In her first public statement since the mask mandate went into effect, Chair Stringham (who herself is recovering from COVID-19) said Salt Lake County could do better at distributing the appropriate type of masks to battle the omicron variant of COVID-19 that is hitting the community.
"I call upon the state of Utah, Utah School Districts, the Salt Lake County Mayor’s Office and Health Department to get these masks out of warehouse storage and into the hands of residents," she said.
The Republican council chair also addressed the political division surrounding the mask mandate.
"Instead of looking out for our fellow man, we have made this so incredibly political, divisive and uncivil. The ability to plan, discuss and work together no longer exists. Any one of these challenges, we, as an intelligent and creative society, could solve. But it has become clear that, if we are to solve problems without turning to government mandates, leadership will need to step up and be willing to work together," she said.
Anti-mask activists have been pressuring county council members to overturn the mandate. Council Vice Chair Aimee Winder Newton tweeted on Sunday that one group sent text messages to all registered Republicans demanding the council overturn the mandate. She also shared a screen shot of a Facebook post where a man called her a particularly derogatory word over her support for this mask mandate.
"We may not always agree, but I will always do what I think is right, not politically expedient," Council member Winder Newton wrote.
Chair Stringham said in her statement there are exemptions to a mask mandate for some people with disabilities or medical conditions.
"Finally, I call on the public, government and political leaders, schools, businesses, really everyone, to be tolerant. Not everyone will comply, we expect that. We are working overtime to get higher quality protection out to the public as quickly as we can. It isn’t worth a fight or angry exchange to try and enforce compliance on someone else. Take care to properly protect yourself and your immediate family and allow others to do the same. Together we can make it through the Omicron spike and keep moving forward to immunity and hopefully leave the pandemic behind," she said.