Utah leaders have no plans for another statewide mask mandate as COVID cases surge


SALT LAKE CITY — Even as COVID-19 cases surge across the state, political leaders on Utah's Capitol Hill have no plans right now to revisit mask mandates or other restrictions.

Senate President J. Stuart Adams told FOX 13 that legislative leaders were having some discussions about COVID-19 cases and whether masking might be revisited, especially as kids return to school in the fall. However, he suggested a special session to unwind what lawmakers passed was unlikely.

Earlier this year, the legislature passed a bill nicknamed the "COVID-19 endgame" which lifted the statewide mask mandate and other restrictions as virus cases declined. Lawmakers also explicitly forbade mask mandates in Utah schools in the fall. Private businesses can still require masks.

As FOX 13 first reported earlier this month, the Utah Department of Health was drafting back-to-school guidance for schools that recommend face coverings, but not require them. They will focus more on testing for COVID-19 and modify quarantine and isolation plans.

But political leaders from the governor on down have pushed vaccines over other measures.

"Please get vaccinated. These numbers can’t continue. We hope they won't. We hope the people that can and will get vaccinated — get vaccinated," Sen. Adams told FOX 13 on Thursday. "My focus will be the same it has been it seems for 18 months... make sure we save lives, as many as possible, and livelihoods. If masks are part of it, that’s fine. We just need to focus on keeping businesses open and keeping people healthy."

On Thursday, the Utah Department of Health reported a staggering 1,113 new cases of COVID-19 in the state and three new deaths. Hospitals are filling up again with the 16 largest hospitals able to care for virus patients reporting their intensive care units are now 88.7% full. The delta variant of COVID-19, which is highly contagious, is the big driver of the surge.

"Today's case count is another step in the wrong direction for our state. But we remain confident in vaccines to help us turn the tide," Governor Spencer Cox said in a statement. "Unfortunately, nearly everyone who is getting sick, and who will end up in the hospital because of today's case counts, is unvaccinated. This pandemic of the unvaccinated is tragic because it is preventable. It has never been easier to get a vaccine. While we are encouraged by increases in vaccinations, we need more people to protect themselves and their families."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued guidance urging Americans to wear face masks indoors in public spaces in high transmission areas. A large part of Utah falls under that category.

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall has imposed a face mask requirement in all city-owned and operated facilities, which she has the authority to do. Salt Lake County's mayor is not likely to issue one because the county council can override her.

The Utah Judicial Council, which oversees the court system, has imposed one in all courthouses that are in a high or moderate transmission index for COVID-19. The judiciary is an independent branch of government from the legislature or executive branch.