The top Republicans in the House and Senate came out against a mandatory statewide requirement for residents to wear masks in public to slow the spread of the coronavirus on Wednesday.
House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, and Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, issued statements within minutes of each other strongly encouraging the wearing of masks in public, but the legislative leaders said a requirement would be going too far.
Gov. Gary Herbert is considering a statewide face-covering mandate. He is expected to make his announcement on Thursday morning.
Cases of the virus are skyrocketing in Utah, forcing state leaders to pause efforts to lift Covid-related restrictions. On Wednesday, Utah reported a single-day record of 722 new cases and 7 deaths from the virus. Nationwide, the U.S. reported 59,000 new cases of the virus, the fifth record number in nine days.
Wilson worried a statewide order would treat urban and rural areas differently.
“Local officials are better positioned to make data-driven decisions regarding facemasks that are tailored to their communities,” wrote Wilson. However, local officials are prohibited from imposing more stringent measures to slow the spread of the virus, like requiring residents to wear a mask, unless they get permission from Gov. Herbert. Salt Lake and Summit Counties both implemented requirements for face coverings in public after receiving permission from Herbert.
Adams’ statement included some hand-wringing over balancing public health and individual rights.
“Mandating masks raises questions of enforcement and punishment. As legislators, we are working to strike a balance between policies that protect public health and citizen’s rights,” he said.
The statements from Wilson and Adams carry some weight as lawmakers passed a bill in April’s special session requiring the governor to consult with legislators 24 hours before issuing an emergency order. HB3005 also gives lawmakers the ability to roll back any emergency order from Herbert.
Earlier this week the Utah Hospital Association asked Gov. Herbert to issue a statewide mask mandate as they are seeing the number of Covid-19 hospitalizations grow.
UtahPolicy.com reported Wednesday that the legislature’s Covid-19 commission voted last week against a statewide requirement for residents to wear masks in public. Instead, the 10-person commission supports an extensive public awareness/marketing campaign to let residents know the benefits of masks in slowing the spread of the coronavirus.
Governors in 20 states have implemented some sort of statewide requirement for face coverings as the number of cases continue to rise.