SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson said she has not yet decided if she will seek a new mask mandate if the COVID-19 "endgame" bill is signed by the governor and the statewide mask mandate is lifted on April 10.
"TBD," she said in response to a question from FOX 13 at a news conference on Wednesday. "We’re going to wait and see."
As COVID-19 vaccines opened up to all Utahns over the age of 16, Mayor Wilson urged people to still wear masks in public until health experts say it is safe to remove them and when the state reaches a herd immunity through vaccination.
"While there’s light at the end of the tunnel, we need the community’s help," the mayor said.
Salt Lake County Council Chair Steve DeBry told FOX 13 he intends to call a special meeting of the council on April 9 — the day before the mask mandate would be dropped under the "endgame" bill — to decide whether a new mask mandate is needed based on the latest data.
"If the benchmarks are met, then it’s a moot point for the council and there will be no masks anymore," he said. "However, if one of the three or two of the three aren’t, then it’s up to the county council for Salt Lake County to determine."
Governor Spencer Cox signed the bill, even though he has been critical of it. He negotiated the April 10 date to end the statewide mask mandate with members of the Utah State Legislature, some of whom wanted to lift it immediately. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, lifts other health restrictions as vaccination rates rise and cases decline. But it allows local legislative bodies to seek their own mask mandates. Private businesses are also allowed to implement their own mask requirements for customers and employees.
Council Chair DeBry said it remains to be seen if Utah's most populous county would remain under a mask mandate. Salt Lake County was among the first to adopt one last year, well ahead of then-Governor Gary Herbert implementing a statewide mandate in November.
"We don’t want to see people die," DeBry told FOX 13. "And we need to protect vulnerable people."
He also worried about variants, a resurgence of the virus and how long the COVID-19 vaccine would last before people need a booster shot. DeBry has been prodding the county to start preparing for changes now — to avoid a return to drastic health restrictions.
"We’re seeing light at the end of the tunnel, but my concern is long term. It’s still going to be out there somewhere," he said of the virus. "What do we have to do to stay on top of it so we don’t go back into this vortex of last year?"
The Salt Lake County Health Department urged Utahns to not wait to get their shot. Health department director Gary Edwards said the mass vaccine clinics the county has set up have handled around 30,000 people a week.
"We are prepared to do more than that, even double that," he said, adding it was based on dosage availability that comes through the federal government.
Edwards urged people to sign up for appointments. As of Wednesday, the Salt Lake County Health Department had about 17,000 open slots through the end of April. He also pleaded with people not to go "vaccine shopping," where they book an appointment and then look for another one that's more convenient or try to get a certain brand of vaccine. In some cases, as many as 600 appointments have been double-booked, leaving others locked out.
"That’s 600 individuals that could have been vaccinated but weren’t able to. That’s the problem that it creates," Edwards warned.