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Utah legislative leaders call for voluntary mask-wearing instead of state mandate ahead of Herbert decision

Gov. Gary Herbert keeps a mask at the ready as he speaks during a press conference at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, June 11, 2020. (Photo: Spenser Heaps, KSL)

(Spenser Heaps, KSL)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Senate President Stuart Adams and House Speaker Brad Wilson voiced opposition to a state mask mandate on Wednesday ahead of Gov. Gary Herbert’s expected Thursday decision about the mandate.

The statements — which encourage Utahns to wear masks on their own — come one day after Adams and Wilson met with Hebert, who is also weighing calls from local government and business leaders to enact an order for people to wear face masks in public places where social distancing is not possible.

“The simple act of wearing a mask protects the vulnerable, keeps Utahns working, allows businesses to stay open, and prevents our health care systems from being overwhelmed,” Adams wrote in a statement released on Wednesday. “Mandating masks raises questions of enforcement and punishment.”

Summit and Salt Lake Counties — the only two in the state with mask requirements — emphasize the orders are not intended to be punitive. Enforcement of the rule is focused on education followed by warnings and fines, not arrests.

Stuart echoed Adams, saying he believed it was “prudent to stop short of issuing a statewide government mandate, because doing so would apply the same policy to our most heavily populated areas as our rural areas and areas with different rates of infection.”

Multiple appeals to state leaders calling for a mask mandate have emphasized leaders should simply add wearing masks as a requirement in areas with higher infection rates — not areas that have already moved to green on the state’s coronavirus response scale.

“Local officials are better positioned to make data driven decisions regarding face masks that are tailored to their communities,” Wilson continued.

In recent days, multiple organizations have called on state leaders to implement a mask order: the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce recommends one in areas with higher COVID-19 transmission rates while the Utah Hospital Association and asked leaders to "adopt a rule requiring Utahns to wear masks."

“As legislators, we are working to strike a balance between policies that protect public health and citizens' rights,” Adams said. “Let us rise to the occasion and do what we can, proudly and willingly. I am asking you to help out by wearing a mask voluntarily.

On Wednesday, Utah again broke its record for highest single-day increase in coronavirus cases with 722 cases. Wednesday’s numbers brought the state totals to 26,755 total cases and 201 total deaths.

Herbert is expected to announce his decision on whether to implement a mandate or not at Thursday's COVID-19 briefing, his office confirmed.

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