LEHI — Preston Knutson, 21, is a full-time Utah Valley University student and works as a food delivery driver for DoorDash. On a full day of driving, Knutson can complete up to 50 orders across northern Utah County, working for about 10 hours.
To keep him and his customers safe from COVID-19, the college student has been extra careful about taking the proper health precautions and made sure he's staying up to date on the latest recommendations. It's especially important to Knutson to stay safe considering some of his customers ordering in might be doing so because they are unable to get food in-person due to health concerns.
So when Utah's mask mandate ended on April 10 for much of the state, taking precautions got a lot harder.
"The mask mandate to me was super important in trying to prevent me from contracting the virus because if I contract the virus, you know obviously I have an obligation to immediately take myself out of DoorDash and the wait the two-week quarantine," he said.
Now, it depends on the business whether or not masks are required, meaning Knutson is at a higher risk of exposure to COVID-19. While masks are still required in Salt Lake City and Grand County, Knutson does most of his deliveries in Utah County, where masks have been a hot issue since the early days of the pandemic.
The director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Rochelle Walensky, recently said now isn't the time to end mask-wearing, but individuals have still chosen to go without precautions.
Despite research showing statewide mask mandates boost the economy and slow the spread of the coronavirus, several states have decided to forego their mask mandates in a move critics called premature. In addition to Utah, where the mask mandate was only in effect from November to April, several other states have lifted the statewide mask requirement as well: Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Texas, Wyoming, Kansas and Wisconsin.
Businesses in Utah are able to implement their own mask requirements and areas that still have a mandate have seen conflict with patrons. Last week, a man threatened gun violence against a Salt Lake City business over a mask dispute.
Gov. Spencer Cox denounced such violent threats and said he continues to support businesses that require masks.
"Utah has a strong tradition of respecting private property rights. Businesses and public services have the right under the law to continue requiring masks in their establishments if they choose," Cox said. "We support such efforts and thank all Utahns who respect each other's rights and mask requirements wherever they are in effect."
Knutson continues to take health measures seriously and remains double-masked in his car all day delivering orders to ensure the food stays safe and free from the risk of contamination, but he is now interacting with more and more maskless individuals at restaurants.
Without a statewide rule, Knutson is forced to rely on individual restaurant restrictions and he's noticed since the mandate was lifted, employees have been less likely to enforce mask policies, likely to avoid confrontation.
"I get masks are uncomfortable," Knutson said, adding he feels short-term discomfort is worth it for long-term safety for himself and others.
While it might not be a big deal for some to get COVID-19, like healthy individuals working from home, getting COVID-19 simply isn't an option for Knutson and many others across the state.
He currently lives with two individuals who are at high risk for developing complications if they contract COVID-19, and if he did test positive, he would be unable to work for a full 14-day quarantine — that means two weeks with no income.
"I can't afford that right now," he said.
Thankfully, Knutson said he recently got his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, but he won't be fully vaccinated until two weeks after he is able to get his second shot.
"I understand you want to have fun; we've all been locked up for a year," he said. "I just wish people would just take into consideration that not everybody is as fortunate as them, and would take a little bit of a degree of discomfort in exchange for … a lot more certainty for restaurant workers or food retail workers."
At the end of the day, Knutson hopes people are able to look past the politics and listen to the advice of health experts and officials who are still recommending health precautions, like mask-wearing and social distancing, are taken.
"I just wish a lot of people had more empathy," he said.