Utah House votes to spike local health orders, mask mandates overturned in Salt Lake, Summit counties

File Photo: Utah State Capitol/Gephardt Daily/Patrick Benedict

UTAH, Jan. 21, 2022 (Gephardt Daily) — The Utah House of Representatives voted just before noon on Friday to pass a resolution ending the local mask mandates issued in Salt Lake and Summit counties.

The joint resolution was passed by the Republican majority in a vote of 44 to 30.

The House vote followed a discussion by representatives that touched on whether local authorities should have authority to mandate such issues; how tired the public is of COVID-19 and associated orders; the importance of protecting workers who don’t have the option of staying home to avoid infection; and how people can still wear masks if they choose.

Because it’s a resolution rather than a law, the mandate repeal does not need to go through Gov. Spencer Cox for final approval.

SJR3 was the first order of business when it was passed in the Senate in the first hours of the 2022 legislative session by a vote of 22 to 5.

Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson and Dr. Angela Dunn, executive director of the Salt Lake County Health Department, responded to the House vote shortly after noon.

”In spite of the misguided actions of the Legislature today, please continue to wear good-quality masks while in public,” Wilson said. “We are at very high rates of COVID spread and we are hopeful to have the Omicron variant of the virus behind us soon.  Health experts agree masks worn properly help contain the spread of COVID. Let’s all help keep our teachers teaching, our students learning, our hospitals operating, and our residents healthy,” Wilson said.

“Effectively protecting our most vulnerable community members — and ensuring that our businesses and essential services have the staff necessary to operate — requires layering our various prevention tools; this includes being up to date on vaccine, staying home when ill, and wearing a respirator mask in public during this surge,” Dunn said. “We encourage Salt Lake County residents and visitors to do these things, regardless of whether or not a mandate is in place.”

The Utah House Democratic Caucus issued its own statement, taking Republican legislators to task for bucking local medical experts and legislative bodies like county councils, during a period when COVID-19 infections are at a record high and the state’s hospitals are being overrun.

The Democratic Party statement is as follows:

SJR3 is a slap in the face to our healthcare workers still struggling to save lives during this public health crisis. It is disrespectful to Utahns who are trying to do their part to follow public health guidelines to weather this pandemic. Despite the misleading rhetoric, the CDC still says high quality masks ARE an effective tool against spreading this virus. Other areas that have experienced omicron variant surges have thankfully seen cases and hospitalizations subside after a few weeks. Now is a time for leadership and unity, not aggressive, divisive fights, targeting local efforts to protect the community during this temporary crisis. This move feels cynical and pessimistic at a time when Utahns are calling out for collective leadership.  

Public health and county officials took reasonable actions in accordance with policies set by this legislature last year to mitigate the rapid spread of the omicron variant of COVID-19. S.B. 195 was meant to let local authorities decide public health policies — NOT out of touch legislators who don’t live in these communities. The bill passed with an understanding and respect for the authority of local health departments and elected officials and their ability to put in place public health orders to help keep their residents safe. 

The decision among Salt Lake and Summit County leaders and elected officials was based on the rising number of cases, increased hospitalizations — especially among young children, and record wait times for testing in the community. For this legislature to now undermine that process, by overruling local and temporary mask requirements, conveys apathy that erodes public trust in state leadership. 

SJR3 sends a clear message that the legislature cares more about power than good process. At this moment, the people of Utah demand that their elected officials lead — not create more hostility in the face of this challenge. 

Screensaver: Utah State Legislature/Facebook

Gephardt Daily will update the story as more information is made available.

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