As omicron, COVID-19 rises in Utah, Salt Lake mayor and Governor Cox disagree

Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson is pushing back Gov. Spencer Cox after the governor ruled masks optional in state government buildings despite the county-wide mask order issued on Friday.

“I have learned that Governor Cox has ordered that with few exceptions, the mask requirement established by Salt Lake County shall not apply to state buildings and to employees and visitors to those buildings.” Wilson said Monday in a prepared statement.

“While I appreciate the governor’s authority on many levels, he does not have the power to exempt state buildings and employees from the Salt Lake County mask requirement and defy an order. public health constraint, ”said the Democratic mayor.

Cox, a Republican, did not immediately return a request for comment through his spokesperson on Monday.

Dr Angela Dunn, chief of the Salt Lake County health department, issued the 30-day public health order on Friday. It requires anyone over the age of 2 in the county, regardless of their vaccine status or previous COVID-19 infection, to wear “tight-fitting masks” indoors or if they stand in line in public. It took effect at 12:01 am Saturday.

“With cases of omicron threatening our community, it is not only a blatant disregard for the law on the part of the elected head of our state, but also a disregard for the health of our community and the authorities. local, ”Wilson said. “I would expect the governor to set an example for us in obeying the law during this difficult time.”

According to an email released Sunday by the Utah Department of Health and Human Services, the governor has issued “statewide guidance and advice” to all departments of the state according to which masks would not be required in government buildings.

“While mask wearing is supported if desired, state-owned facilities will not require employees or visitors to wear a mask in our buildings,” the email said. “The exceptions are the 24/7 state-run collective care facilities that have existing mask requirements, the UDOH health clinic, and UDOH on-site facilities for COVID-19 testing. ”

The email also stated that “the best tool against COVID-19 continues to be vaccinations and boosters.”

“We continue to support the voluntary wearing of masks, testing and staying home when sick. High quality masks were delivered to all UDOH / DHS buildings last week. If you would like a mask, please ask your building administrative support or employee support contact, ”the email read.

Wilson pointed to SB195, legislation approved by the Utah legislature that restricts the power of local governments to pass coronavirus-related requirements, including mask warrants. The law, however, created a process by which “duress” health orders, such as mask orders, can be issued by a local health department.

“These ordinances can be terminated by the local chief executive within 72 hours of being issued, or they can be rescinded by the local legislature at any time. The legislation does not allow the governor to disregard local health order, ”Wilson said.

The GOP-controlled Salt Lake County Council should not rescind the mask’s mandate, even though it has that power under SB195.

On Sunday evening, Salt Lake County Council Chairman Laurie Stringham, a Republican, issued a press release announcing that she “will not be calling a special session on the temporary health mandate at this time.” Stringham said the county “realizes the need to step up and provide the public with a better protection solution.”

Councilor Dave Alvord, also a Republican, expressed disappointment in a Facebook post on Sunday evening that Stringham was ‘not ready to overturn the Mask’s tenure’, but urged those who did not support him to push back by “contacting your legislators and asking them to intervene.”

The Utah Legislature has the power under SB195 to override local health orders. Utah House President Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, and Utah Senate Speaker Stuart Adams, R-Layton on Friday did not say the new mask mandates would stand. They promised a “review” of the Salt Lake County ordinance.

“The legislature described a process in SB195 with several checks and balances. While we believe government warrants should be a last resort, we will review recently issued orders, ”Adams and Wilson said in a joint statement.

Cox and House and Senate leaders did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday regarding mask requirements in state buildings and Wilson’s comments.

At the Utah Capitol – where staff were busy preparing for the 2022 general session which was due to begin Jan. 18 – mask wearing was inconsistent among staff and visitors on Monday.

In early 2021, the Utah Capitol opened to the public for this general session with mask and social distancing requirements, as well as encouragement for the Utahns to participate virtually.

About a week before the start of the 2022 general session, the Utah Capitol in Salt Lake City had no mask requirements despite the Salt Lake County ordinance – and despite the surge in cases. of COVID-19 in Utah as the highly contagious variant of omicron spreads rapidly throughout the state.

Utah has seen an increase of 24,147 COVID-19 cases since Friday, the Utah Department of Health reported on Monday.

This story will be updated.

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