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SL County mayor considers seeking a new mask mandate as COVID-19 'endgame' bill looms

Mayor Wilson Face Mask
Posted at 12:29 PM, Mar 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-20 19:46:46-04

SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson said she is considering whether to seek a new mask mandate for Utah's most populous county.

In a statement to FOX 13 on Saturday, Mayor Wilson said she was reviewing her options.

"We haven’t ruled out a possible mask mandate after April 10," she said.

That's when the statewide mask mandate is expected to be lifted under a bill passed by the Utah State Legislature and expected to be signed into law by Governor Spencer Cox. The bill, nicknamed the "COVID-19 endgame" by its sponsor, Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, would lift health restrictions when certain metrics on virus case counts and hospitalizations are met.

But lifting the mask mandate has concerned the governor, Utah's Department of Health, as well as Mayor Wilson and Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall.

"Mask wearing is still vital. We’re not done," Mayor Mendenhall said at a news conference on Friday, calling on businesses to continue to require face coverings of customers and employees until health experts say otherwise.

Mayor Mendenhall praised Mayor Wilson for imposing a mask mandate in Salt Lake County last year, well ahead of then-Governor Gary Herbert's decision to implement a statewide one when COVID-19 cases overwhelmed Utah's health care system.

"Mayor Wilson’s mask order for Salt Lake County was an incredible asset for consumer confidence in the county," she said, adding it allowed businesses to stay open.

In her statement, Mayor Wilson said she applauded Mayor Mendenhall's push to have private businesses require them on their own (something the new bill allows).

"I support the efforts of Mayor Mendenhall and other local officials who are encouraging businesses to still require masks at this point in time, regardless of political determinations," the county mayor said.

The "endgame" bill also allows local county governments to seek mask mandates on their own. That is something Mayor Wilson said she is contemplating. In the past, she has defended Salt Lake County's mask mandate as being effective at slowing COVID-19 spread.

"We are currently reviewing options but (assuming the Ray bill goes into law) the most likely path is the county council’s approval if the health department recommends. We are currently working through those options and waiting on the approval of the bill," she said.

Gov. Cox has signaled he will sign the bill, even though he was critical of it. At his monthly news conference earlier this week, the governor told FOX 13 he had struck a deal with the legislature and negotiated for the April 10 date — because lawmakers were considering lifting the mask mandate immediately.

The state has announced it will open up COVID-19 vaccination to everyone starting March 24 with the "endgame" in mind. However, state officials have conceded they will only get about 900,000 eligible Utahns inoculated by April 10 with a first dose.