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Utah sets exit plan for mask mandates, COVID-19 restrictions

Posted at 10:30 AM, Feb 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-23 19:28:46-05

SALT LAKE CITY  — Utah's Department of Health has set an exit date for when parts of the state can remove mandated face coverings.

LINKS: Here's how to register for a COVID-19 vaccination in Utah

In an interview with FOX 13, UDOH executive director Rich Saunders said that eight weeks after Utah hits 1.63 million primary doses of the COVID-19 vaccine allocated, counties in the low transmission index can lift mask mandates. Right now, Utah is at just over 400,000 primary doses of the COVID-19 vaccine administered.

"There’s an epidemiological endpoint which is no new cases for 28 straight days and then there’s got to be more of a practical end vision that we’ll get to a lot sooner, where we can make some serious adjustments," he said.

The latest public health order issued by Saunders late Monday reflects the change in direction. It also tweaks some physical-distancing requirements for counties in the moderate transmission level.

READ: Cox orders Utah flags flown at half-staff this week for nationwide COVID-19 victims

But Saunders cautioned those things could change again.

"So yeah, we’re trying to forge that definition and that description now," he said. "What we’ve described today is not what it’s going to look like in a month or two months, we’re just starting to forge that vision now."

Saunders said the 1.63 million doses reflects roughly 70% of the vaccine-eligible population.

"We’re in a relatively good spot and the mask requirement, which is a really good requirement, it’s the cheapest, least invasive measure that makes the biggest difference, stays in place until the vaccines do arrive and then you go past eight weeks," he said. "You’re going to get the doses into the state and have time to go by for them to take effect."

The latest public health order also tweaks some of the restrictions for COVID-19 in schools and businesses. For K-12 schools, testing will now be required of all high school students participating in a one-time school-sponsored extracurricular activity such as a dance. Students will also be offered COVID testing in schools.

Bars in the moderate transmission index no longer have to limit occupancy to 75%, so long as they can ensure patrons wear masks within 6-feet of another party. Also in moderate transmission, movie theaters, sporting events, wedding venues and other entertainment can now have side-by-side seating if all patrons wearing masks can attest to being free from any COVID-19 symptoms and are not subject to quarantine.

Masks may be removed to eat or drink, but the 6-foot physical distancing is required in that instance.

Meanwhile, the Utah State Legislature is advancing bills that deal with public health orders and the COVID-19 vaccine. The Senate Health & Human Services Committee passed a bill on a 4-3 vote that blocks businesses from mandating the vaccine.

The Utah State Senate also passed a bill that allows the legislature to end a public health order, but its sponsor did not envision it being used to suddenly lift COVID-19 health restrictions.

"There’s no talk of that right now, no," said Senate Majority Leader Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City. "And certainly not a desire on my part to take any kind of immediate action."