Utah Republican State Lawmakers Reverse Mask Mandate in 2 Counties

The GOP-dominated Utah Senate reversed mask mandates in two counties Friday amid an Omicron-driven coronavirus surge.

The resolution immediately went into effect since it was approved by the Senate during the first day of the session and did not require Republican Governor Spencer Cox's veto or signature.

Opponents of the mask mandate said it took away people's freedom.

"I understand many people want to bring about an end to this pandemic. We all do. That all said, doing something for the sake of doing something is not a good enough justification for a government mandate," said Republican sponsor Representative Candice Pierucci.

Before being struck down, the Salt Lake County Council upheld the mandate issued by Mayor Jenny Wilson and the health department.

The mask mandate required all residents in Salt Lake County, regardless of vaccination status or past COVID-19 infection, to wear a mask in indoor public spaces and while lining up outside.

Two council Republicans agreed with the mandate from Dr. Angela Dunn, Salt Lake County Health Department executive director, as COVID-19 cases continue to skyrocket in the state.

"It is disappointing that although our county followed the law, the state Legislature chose to intervene and dismiss the decision we made to protect our residents," said Aimee Winder Newton, a Republican Salt Lake County Council member who supported the mandate.

Utah Mask Mandate
Utah lawmakers reversed mask mandates for two counties during the start of their legislative session. Above, demonstrators protest masks, vaccine mandates and vaccine passports, with some supporting vaccines, at the State House in Boston, Massachusetts, on January 5, 2022. JOSEPH PREZIOSO/Getty Images

During a previous meeting, Republican Salt Lake County Council members said pandemic-fueled disruptions made the mask-mandate necessary.

Despite the overturn of the mask mandate, Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson is still asking citizens to wear a mask and is providing free high-quality masks at the public library.

In addition to Salt Lake County, a mask mandate was also reversed in Summit County, following the legislature's challenge to the county's public health state of emergency issued in December.

The Salt Lake Tribune reported Summit County Health Director Dr. Phil Bondurant disagreed with the lawmakers' decision. "I remain firm in my belief that the actions taken by Summit County and the Summit County Health Department over the last two years have saved lives," Bondurant said.

According to the Utah Department of Health, the state currently has 825,989 confirmed positive COVID-19 cases. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also reports that the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 is the highest the state has seen since the beginning of the pandemic.

Utah is also experiencing a testing shortage, and the Tribune previously reported the state only has roughly 44,000 tests available per day.

Speaking to the Tribune, Dunn added that Utah might start to see a plateau effect since its ability to test residents is limited.

In response to the COVID-19 test shortage that the state is experiencing, Tom Hudachko, Utah Department of Health spokesman, said if someone is symptomatic and can't find an available test, they should assume they have COVID and begin the at-home isolation period.

Studies show the Omicron variant has already become the dominant strain in most countries and spreads more easily, infecting people who have either previously had the virus or been vaccinated. However, studies show Omicron is less likely to cause serious illness.