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Weber County considers whether to issue a new mask mandate after the COVID-19 'endgame'

Counties across Utah contemplate new mask orders
Mask sign
Posted at 4:20 PM, Mar 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-29 20:44:31-04

OGDEN, Utah — Weber County commissioners held their first discussion about whether to issue a new mask mandate after the statewide one is repealed next month.

"I think people are hungry to get the masks off," Commissioner Jim Harvey said at the commission's meeting on Monday.

Commissioners were briefed by local health officials on what to do now that Governor Spencer Cox has signed into law a bill nicknamed the "COVID-19 endgame." It repeals health restrictions as virus cases decline and vaccines increase. Its most controversial provision repeals the statewide mask mandate on April 10 (masks are still required in all schools and in gatherings larger than 50 people).

Across Utah, governments are contemplating what to do next. Many have found mask mandates have been effective at cutting COVID-19 cases and health officials worry about another surge as local health departments race to get people vaccinated.

Weber County was the first in the state to have a discussion. The Salt Lake County Council is expected to be briefed on the new law at its Tuesday meeting. Kane County has declared its mask mandate is over, but that's been pre-empted by the existing statewide mandate.

But even local health officials aren't quite sure whether a new mandate is necessary.

"We’re in a different place today than we were a year ago with coronavirus," said Brian Cowan, the director of the Weber-Morgan Health Department.

The good news is more than 25% of Weber and Morgan County residents have been vaccinated and the number is still going up. Businesses have largely been able to comply with current health restrictions.

Cowan went through the criteria under the law to remove health restrictions or issue a new mandate. Cases have declined, but are still above the threshold under the law (it's 101 cases per 100,000 people — Weber County is currently at 171 but that number is declining). The percent positivity for cases is low, as is statewide intensive care unit hospitalization.

"I’m hesitant to say I think we should or we shouldn’t do a mask mandate. I really want to wait until we get to April 10, look at the numbers and where the infection rates are," Cowan told the commission.

Commissioners agreed. They discussed whether to issue a new mandate for all residents — or just for all Weber County facilities to protect those who are still unvaccinated.

"If the trend went on, would we reach 100 in two weeks or is it flatter than that?" asked Commissioner Scott Jenkins.

"It’s flatter than that," Cowan replied.

Commissioner Harvey said they are not wading into the discussion of whether or not masks are effective, instead focusing what he called a data-driven decision about whether to remove the mask requirement. He pointed out businesses could still require masks under the law. They decided to revisit Weber County's mask mandate at their April 12 meeting — two days after the statewide mandate is lifted.

Following the discussion, Commissioner Gage Froerer told FOX 13 that he was inclined not to seek a new mask requirement.

"I think we’ve got an inclination. Again, that’s not a formal vote," he said. "Our businesses have done a great job in wearing masks and making sure their customers are protected and quite frankly, we trust our businesses. For government to come down on the side to say 'we don’t trust you, we’re going to require that' is, in my opinion, a stretch for Weber County."

Gov. Cox has been pleased with how well COVID-19 vaccinations are going in the state with more Utahns willingly getting their shots. As of Monday, 20% of the eligible adult population has been fully vaccinated. When he got his first dose of the vaccine last week, the governor said he expected all health restrictions might be lifted before July.

Meanwhile, Utah's Department of Health has issued a new statewide public health order. It keeps the mask mandate in place until April 9 — the day before the "endgame bill" goes into effect.

"The state's renewed public health order is largely unchanged, and helps serve as a bridge to April 10 when the statewide mask requirement expires," the agency said in a statement to FOX 13 on Monday. "One change schools may notice is that testing for one-time extracurricular events is now only required if the event is being held indoors."

Read the latest public health order here: