SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Gov. Spencer Cox on Monday signed into law HB294, which will lift the statewide mask mandate by April 10 except in large gatherings of more than 50 people where social distancing isn't possible.
HB294 also lifts pandemic restrictions once Utah achieves a list of thresholds outlined in the bill or on July 1, whichever comes first. The thresholds include "the state's 14-day case rate is less than 191 per 100,000 people; the statewide seven-day average COVID-19 ICU utilization is less than 15%; and the Department of Health provides notice that 1,633,000 prime doses of a COVID-19 vaccine have been allocated to the state."
Educators expressed their concerns about lifting the mask mandate in schools while the legislature was in session, but the bill assures mask mandates in K-12 schools will still be in effect until July 1.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sydnee Dickson, who said she was speaking personally and not on behalf of the Board of Education, called the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic almost a year ago "traumatic" and "something I've never faced in my decades as an educator."
Despite some pushback from health officials and some of the public, Cox had previously said that he would sign the bill if it were passed by the Legislature.
Cox stated that he had negotiated with lawmakers and the Utah Department of Health on the bill, pushing the date back to April 10.
"Once it became clear that the Legislature planned to end the mask mandate immediately, and with a veto-proof majority, our administration worked with them to push the date back to get as many people vaccinated as possible. It's important to note that the mask mandate will continue after April 10 in schools and for large gatherings. Also, businesses can still require masks. And of course, every individual can choose to wear a mask," said Jennifer Napier Pearce, Cox's director of communications.
Nearly 28,000 vaccinations were reported by the state health department on Wednesday, the same day state officials opened vaccinations up to anyone over the age of 16.
In addition to giving businesses the option to require masks, the bill allows local health departments, with approval from the relevant county legislative body, to issue a public health order requiring the wearing of a mask.
Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall asked Utahns to continue to wear their masks even after the passing of HB294.
"Even though our COVID-19 numbers have dropped and are continuing to drop significantly over the last few months, mask-wearing is still vital. We're not done," Mendenhall said in a news conference last week.
Mendenhall and Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson said that enacting a citywide or countywide mask mandate after the statewide mandate expires on April 10 hasn't been ruled out.