Emergency Provo City Council Meeting To Discuss Mask Order Before Students’ Return

Aug 19, 2020, 10:34 PM | Updated: 11:41 pm

PROVO, Utah — With tens of thousands of college students set to return to Brigham Young University and Utah Valley University in the coming days, the Provo City Council is expected to consider a stronger position on masks during an emergency meeting Thursday.

Councilmember Shannon Ellsworth said Wednesday it was still unclear what action the council would take during Thursday’s 5:30 p.m. virtual meeting, but the body would likely discuss several alternatives, ranging from a mask mandate to a strong encouragement of mask use as the COVID-19 pandemic pushes toward fall.

“Students have a unique lifestyle — they live very densely, they’re very mobile, very active, very social — and so we have concerns about what that could mean for community spread,” Ellsworth said.

Ellsworth said the city wants the area’s roughly 60,000 to 75,000 college students to return, as they play a vital role in the local economy.

“There is a lot on the line and we do want these students to stay here in Provo, we want to retain them throughout the school year,” Ellsworth said. “They bring a lot to our community — not just tax dollars — so we’d love for them to stay.”

Ellsworth said the council wants to keep all students — including the city’s K-12 students, which began school Wednesday — as safe as possible, along with residents.

“There are different precedents in the state,” Ellsworth said. “Logan city has a mask mandate, Salt Lake County and Summit County have mask mandates, and so we’re looking at those to see if that’s something we want to model or replicate here in Provo and we haven’t made that decision yet. It’s just something we’re considering.”

Ellsworth said councilmembers have discussed making a decision quickly ahead of the return of students, but the council is also expected to hold a public hearing during the Thursday meeting for feedback.

“There may be a consensus tomorrow,” Ellsworth said. “Everyone has similar values — we just weigh them differently.”

Already, the city has fielded hundreds of emails from people either in favor or against a mask mandate.

Ellsworth loosely estimated more than 50% of the responses to date had been in favor.

“We decided to have this meeting because we wanted to make sure we’re acting with enough time and we’re preparing appropriately for the opening of these universities,” Ellsworth said.

The virtual meeting is expected to be live-streamed on YouTube.

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Emergency Provo City Council Meeting To Discuss Mask Order Before Students’ Return