SALT LAKE COUNTY, Utah, Aug. 11, 2021 (Gephardt Daily) — Dr. Angela Dunn, executive director of the Salt Lake County Health Department announced Tuesday that students in Salt Lake County schools in grades K-6 will be required to wear masks at the start of the upcoming school year.
Dunn’s decision comes as Utah witnesses a spike in COVID-19 cases, as well as hospitalizations and deaths, attributed to the highly-transmissible Delta variant.
The local countywide health order, endorsed by S.L. County Mayor Jenny Wilson, and by Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall, now must pass muster before the Salt Lake County Council, recently empowered by the Utah State Legislature to block any such local health mandates at their discretion. Should the County Council actually approve such a measure – now known as an “order of constraint” – the Legislature still holds the power to overturn the Council’s decision.
That authority, created by SB-195, the so-called “end game bill” was passed during a special session of the Legislature and greatly restricts the independent ability of local health authorities to issue emergency orders like mask restrictions. Before a mandate can be enacted Health Department officials must now give 24-hour notice of their intention to the Council.
In keeping with the new law, Dunn notified her direct superior, Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson, of her intent Tuesday to issue an order of constraint at 12:12 p.m. Dunn could then issue the formal order of constraint as soon as 12:12 p.m. Wednesday.
While Dunn appeared guardedly optimistic about her order being approved, Steve DeBry, chairman of the Salt Lake County Council posted a statement on social media saying, “I will be calling a special meeting of the Council on Thursday at 2 pm for a vote on a resolution to overturn the mask mandate.”
The meeting’s agenda will be posted Wednesday.
Wilson appeared with Dunn at a Tuesday afternoon news conference and told reporters she fully supported the doctor’s decision..
“Tomorrow, she’ll be sending through the formal request,” Wilson said. “I will not terminate that request, which means this decision is now in the hands of the County Council. You know, I’ll be honest, I’m heartbroken that we’re here as our kids are close to entering school, they’ll be entering next week. And we know that they’re entering sadly at a time when the Delta virus is very, very aggressive.”
Not only is the COVID-19 Delta variant far more transmissible than other versions of the virus, at present, there is no approved vaccine available to children 12 and younger.
Dunn said since vaccinations are approved for age 12 and older, and about 45% of children older than 12 have been vaccinated, the mask effort will be focused mainly on children younger than 12 who currently have no vaccination option.
“It’s our duty to give them every opportunity to stay safe and stay in in-person learning, and wearing masks is that ticket. Once we have the ability to get vaccinated we encourage those parents and students to use that as their primary means of protection.”
Gov. Spencer Cox has promised to provide high quality masks for all school children who need them, Dunn noted.
Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall also voiced her support for a school mask mandate, asking County Council members to “support her recommendation knowing that it comes from an extensive evaluation of scientific data and is the best strategy to protect our children who are so vulnerable at this time.”