SLC Mayor Mendenhall requests county-wide mask requirement in public spaces

Jan 7, 2022, 11:12 AM | Updated: 11:50 am
FILE - Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall (KSL TV)...
FILE - Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall (KSL TV)

SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall requested a Salt Lake County mask requirements from the county’s health leader and asked county politicians to support it.

In one letter Mendenhall asked County Health Department Executive Director Dr. Angela Dunn, to make the mask rule. In a separate letter she urged the county council to support such a measure; the nine-member political body has the power to override health orders and has done so previously on mask mandates.

In both letters she urged masking rules to combat an explosion of COVID-19 cases, particularly of the new highly-contagious omicron variant that may be less deadly than previously variants.

Numbers of cases have been record-breaking on multiple days in the last week, Utah hospitals are at capacity and the percentage of positive results from tests has risen dramatically since the omicron variant of the virus reached the state approximately a week ago. Utah has recorded 3,868 deaths from the disease since March, 2020. (This was written before Friday’s data update from the Utah Department of Health.)

Deaths from the virus are counted and recorded by the same methodology as other deaths in Utah.

Mendenhall wrote to Dunn:

It is our shared responsibility as leaders to protect every life we can, so I write to. you today to urge you to enact a life-saving county-wide mask requirement in public spaces during the next several weeks.”

The Utah Legislature made mandates difficult to enact by local leaders and involve a process that starts with a county health department order that can be rejected by the county council and other government entities. Mendenhall wrote to the council urging its members to support the county-wide requirement and referenced data shared to the council by Dunn and announcements from health care providers that non-essential health procedures are already being deferred.

When the COVID-19 pandemic reached Utah in March, 2020, the state’s governor had the power to declare a health emergency and mask order. Utah lawmakers shifted the power to local health departments and health officials but with veto power by elected officials.

Previously Mendenhall put a mask order in place for Salt Lake City only, a directive that some lawmakers said she didn’t have the authority to make but didn’t seem to be specifically eliminated by the so called COVID-19 End Game Bill. Mendenhall’s law team and the mayor refuted that claim.

Dunn previously enacted a county mask order for students that the city council voted along party lines to overrule. A vocal crowd supported the overturning 6-3 vote.

In Friday’s letter to the council, the mayor highlighted that the seven-day average of county cases jumped from 450 on Dec. 26, 2021 to 1,450 by Jan. 2. She wrote:

A countywide requirement will do significantly more to protect our constituents than a mask requirement in Salt Lake City alone, both in reducing community transmission during the highly contagious omincron wave, and in protecting the heroic medical staff at our overwhelmed hospitals. If we do not take this step for them now, there many not be enough healthy doctors and nurses on duty to take care of our constituents when the wave crests in a few weeks.

Please do all in your power to protect our residents, our healthcare and frontline workers, and keep schools and businesses open by temporarily requiring maks in public spaces countywide.

Mendenhall has previously said that many who work in the city travel or live outside it daily, making a city mask requirement less effective when residents are around those who are exposed outside the city.

In her letter to the council, Mendenhall highlighted the east-side growth in cases that is expected to migrate to the west and south parts of the county. She thanked Dunn and the council for time and consideration and said she looked forward to a speedy response.

Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson is copied on the letter to Dunn and has been supportive of mask rules previously.

The city mayor is speaking to the press at 11:30 a.m. Friday at the Salt Lake City and County Building.

The Salt Lake County Council is:

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SLC Mayor Mendenhall requests county-wide mask requirement in public spaces