SALT LAKE CITY — Governor Spencer Cox has signed into law the bill nicknamed the COVID-19 "endgame," that lifts the statewide mask mandate effective April 10.
The governor signed the bill late Wednesday, the day before a deadline to allow bills to pass into law or be vetoed.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, called the bill an "endgame" to get rid of restrictions and the ongoing pandemic emergency.
"I’m excited that we now have an endgame as the pandemic winds down. The combination of vaccinations and recovered cases have brought our numbers down and it’s time to start moving forward," Rep. Ray said in a text message to FOX 13. "Utah has weathered this crisis better than nearly every other state and now with the restraints off, we can fully get back to business. I support an individuals choice to wear a mask and remind everyone to please be patient and kind to employees who work in businesses that still require a mask."
Overall, the bill lifts health restrictions by July 1 or sooner if metrics are met, including a drop in virus cases and an increase in vaccinations. But its most controversial provision was the April 10 deadline to lift the mask mandate.
"This is not what we wanted. I’ve been critical from the beginning," Gov. Cox told reporters at his monthly news conference last week.
But the governor said some in the legislature wanted to lift the mask mandate immediately, so he negotiated the terms of the bill with them. It was rewritten several times during the legislative session before it passed on the final night.
"This is the practical piece that I think a lot of people don’t understand of the sausage-making," the governor said last week. "We have a choice every time. We can say, 'Hey, we can veto a bill and we're not going to negotiate.' But when I involve myself in the negotiations, then I have do what I believe is best for the state and I have to get as much as I can. We believed they had the votes to override a veto for an immediate end to masks. I believe that wholeheartedly."
Masks will still be required in schools and in gatherings larger than 50 people. The bill does allow local governments to seek their own mask mandates. Salt Lake County Council Chair Steve DeBry told FOX 13 that he intended to hold a special meeting on April 9 to see if that was necessary. It also does not prohibit businesses from requiring masks of customers and employees.
On Wednesday, the governor signed some other bills related to the COVID-19 pandemic, including one that reins in his own powers. Senate Bill 195 allows a governor to issue an emergency declaration, but it will be reviewed by the legislature after 30 days. The exception being for natural disasters.
Senate Majority Leader Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, who sponsored the bill, has said existing emergency powers law did not envision a pandemic.
The governor also signed a bill aimed at returning students to the classroom in the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill was originally created to force the Salt Lake City School District to return to in-person instruction. After a lot of negotiating, it was rewritten to increase COVID testing in all schools across the state and measures for closures related to outbreaks.
The governor vetoed a bill related to local health orders and schools because it was not part of the negotiations he had with the legislature. Here is his letter on that: