SALT LAKE CITY — Governor Spencer Cox and other political leaders are condemning threats made to businesses that continue to require face coverings in the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a sternly worded statement issued Monday, the governor stuck up for businesses.
"We strongly condemn the threats of violence made against employees and businesses requiring patrons to wear masks. Individuals who make such threats will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," Gov. Cox said.
"Utah has a strong tradition of respecting private property rights. Businesses and public services have the right under the law to continue requiring masks in their establishments if they choose. We support such efforts and thank all Utahns who respect each other’s rights and mask requirements wherever they are in effect."
The governor's statement follows a series of incidents over the weekend where businesses reported problems with getting people to continue wearing face coverings. The Stockist, a Salt Lake City clothing boutique, was forced to close after its owner said a man threatened a mass shooting after being told to wear a mask.
Lt. Governor Deidre Henderson personally visited the store to offer her support.
Stopped by The Stockist to express my support for the store’s owner and her employees. Businesses have every right to protect workers and customers by requiring masks. It’s a small ask to expect people to be respectful and kind. FYI, SLC still has mask mandate. #utpol pic.twitter.com/lnM2p0v1AR— Deidre Henderson (@DeidreHenderson) April 12, 2021
"Please don’t do this. Act with grace and dignity and wear a mask. This is abhorrent behavior. It’s also illegal to threaten violence like this," Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said in a post on Twitter.
Late Monday, Salt Lake City police confirmed an arrest in the incident. (Utah Transit Authority reported an incident over the weekend where a man was arrested after refusing to turn down his music and wear a mask on a Frontrunner train. Court records show that man has a history of making threats to police.)
The statewide mask mandate was lifted on Saturday under a law nicknamed the "COVID-19 Endgame." It removes health restrictions as virus cases decline and vaccinations increase, but its most controversial provision has been eliminating the statewide mask mandate.
In an interview with FOX 13 on Monday, the bill's sponsor also condemned threats of violence.
"If you don’t like it? Don’t go shop there. Don’t go in and pick a fight," said Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield. "If you don’t like a business' requirements then go somewhere else. I went into a couple and I didn’t care for it. But that was their rules, so I wore the mask."
The law allows county governments to elect to keep a mask mandate in place. So far, Grand County is the only one to continue to require masks in public. Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall has issued an emergency order mandating them for Utah's capital city.
Meanwhile, Weber County commissioners voted Monday to not issue a new mask mandate. In a unanimous vote, commissioners decided to only encourage local governments and private businesses to continue to require masks if they feel it is appropriate for them.
"I want to respect private business. If private business decides that’s what they want to do? I’d like to allow them and respect them to make their own decisions with that, especially as it relates to masks," said Commissioner Jim Harvey.
The law also continues the mask mandate for K-12 schools across the state and gatherings over 50 people. Over the weekend, groups who have been part of a campaign to undermine that mandate staged protests and urged some parents to send their children to school without face coverings. FOX 13 received reports of some students being sent home when they showed up mask-less.
Gov. Cox has said he will not end the mask mandate for public schools. Rep. Ray also pushed back on the protesters.
"It’s not the school’s fault. We require that. The health department issued an order. I don’t really care for it, but they wanted it, we gave it to them," he told FOX 13. "I support that. If that’s the order from the state health department? Don’t send your kids without masks. All you’re doing is causing problems for kids."