SALT LAKE CITY — Governor Gary Herbert is facing increased pressure to mandate face masks in public following an ominous memo from the state epidemiologist.
Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson said she is sending a letter to the governor asking him to allow her to mandate face coverings in public within Utah's most populous county.
"This is a health issue. This isn't a partisan issue. This isn't a political football," she told the Salt Lake County Council on Tuesday.
The mayor said enforcement would likely be a verbal warning. The council largely backed Mayor Wilson's plan to implore the governor to allow the county to mandate face covering, and agreed to send their own letter to him.
Mayor Wilson cannot issue her own order. The Utah State Legislature passed a law earlier this year blocking local agencies from being stricter than the state.
"I could care less about the politics," Mayor Wilson said in an interview Tuesday with FOX 13. "I want us all to be safe. That’s what’s driving me to this decision."
The mayor insisted she is not shutting anything down, nor was she seeking to move Salt Lake County to "orange" risk status.
"We’re going to have an awfully hard time in this community if we don’t take a turn and the colors don’t matter as much to me as face coverings and social distancing," she said.
Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall has also called on the governor to mandate face coverings.
"Salt Lake City’s numbers continue to trend relatively flat, but county and statewide data is showing a concerning upward tick; that is why I’m looking for a next step in COVID prevention that involves more than just our city," Mayor Mendenhall said in a statement to FOX 13.
"We know that masks are estimated to be 75% to 82% effective at preventing the spread of COVID, so if we want to avoid this continued rate of spread and the need to revert to where we were this spring, requiring masks is a low impact, high return solution that we need to consider."
State epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn sent a memo last week to Utah's COVID-19 Unified Command, which is overseeing the statewide response to the pandemic. The memo, which was shared with FOX 13, warned that the state was within four to eight weeks of exceeding hospital capacity to treat the virus. Dr. Dunn also warned that if the state was unable to drop its surging cases by July 1, she recommended a move back to "orange" on the COVID-19 risk scale.
Dr. Dunn also recommended that either government or businesses mandate the wearing of face masks. In an interview with FOX 13 last week, Lt. Governor Spencer Cox, who heads the state's COVID-19 task force, said the state was not likely to mandate face coverings.
On Tuesday, Gov. Herbert's office said it is consulting with Dr. Dunn and others to address the surge in cases. But FOX 13 was told the governor was clear in his view that a shutdown is not under consideration. The governor continued to strongly encourage people to wear face masks in public when social distancing is not possible and expected Utahns to follow the recommendations, but so far has not mandated it.
Asked by FOX 13 about Salt Lake County's request, the governor signaled he would consider it.
"Governor Herbert strongly supports mask wearing in public when social distancing is not possible because it is a sign of respect for the health and well being of others. He is concerned that requiring masks could create divisive enforcement issues at a time when we need to come together of our own accord around a shared concern for one another’s health," his office told FOX 13. "That said, local health departments should bring their data and analysis to the Utah Department of Health if they believe there is a need to vary from the current guidelines."