LOCAL NEWS

SL County Council chair will not call for special session on mask order

Jan 10, 2022, 12:08 AM | Updated: 8:07 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — After a county health order went into effect Saturday — requiring masks to slow the spread of COVID-19 indoors and in public places — the Salt Lake County Council chairwoman said she will not call for a special meeting to possibly veto the measure.

Chairwoman Laurie Stringham sent a press release Sunday night that said she will not be calling for a county council special session and outlined the ways the virus is negatively impacting the lives of residents. She also called on area leaders to get more protective masks into the hands of citizens.

“I have spent the time from Friday’s release of the Salt Lake County Public Health Order 2022-01 doing a full due diligence to understand and research the circumstances we are facing due to the omicron variant of COVID-19,” she wrote in the release that hit news outlets after the Sunday 10 p.m. television news had started.

By not calling for a vote, the health order, that was called for by Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall, will stand.

Last year the same council voted to veto a mandate for masks in schools.

She also asked for patience and said it is known that not everyone will comply with the order. No county and no Utah state law enforcement has yet been known to enforce mask requirements. Business and government offices or services have required masks for patrons and customers.

The mask order was issued Friday by Salt Lake County Health Department Executive Director Angela Dunn. The same day, Utah broke its own record for case numbers for the third time in a row. This despite many more home tests being available, the results of which are not reported, and testing centers facing long lanes, likely sending some seeks tests home.

Stringham wrote of conditions in Salt Lake County:

We have lines hours and miles long for COVID-19 testing. We have many schools who have hit the test to stay requirement or are expected to be there by week’s end. We are hearing from mayors who can no longer fully staff fire stations, essential positions, and their police officers are all in overtime. Our healthcare workers and first responders are facing staffing shortages for several reasons, including illness.

She said the county also recognizes the need to provide better protection for the public.

“The county has delivered N95 and KN95 masks to our senior centers and to all of the library branches for distribution to those who do not otherwise have the means to access a respirator or these more effective masks. N95 and KN95 masks are a proven protection the virus. I call upon the state of Utah, Utah school districts, the Salt Lake County Mayor’s Office and health department to get these masks out of warehouse storage and into the hands of residents,” she wrote.

One of the concerns of health experts and some elected officials is that Utah hospitals will have too many patients to care for, particularly in intensive care units.

The 30-day mask mandate for Salt Lake County includes schools. Stringham pointed out in her press release that parents do not need a doctor’s note to give their children a mask exemption but simply need to notify the school of their wishes not to comply with the order.

She said parents should notify schools if their children have any of the following:

  • those who cannot put on or remove the masks without assistance
  • a medical condition, mental health condition or intellectual or developmental disability
  • individuals who have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or an accommodation under Section 504 that allow for a mask exemption for the student and teacher to meet educational needs, such as Deaf or hearing impaired. (Although an IEP or 504 is not required for a learning exemption.)

After getting clarification from the health department, school districts worked to change their mask exemption forms to remove the requirement for a doctor’s signature.

“We did modify that form over the weekend to simplify that process, and if parents do affirm that their child qualifies for those medical conditions, we’re not requiring any additional verification,” Ben Horsley, spokesperson for the Granite School District, said.

On Sunday, the advocacy group Utah Parents United sent a letter to school superintendents in the county, asking them to better inform parents that a doctor’s signature is not required for a mask exemption under the new mandate.

The group said parents know their children best.

“So they are able to use their own judgement to decide if their child qualifies for the exemption because of their mental, emotional, or medical condition,” Corinne Johnson with Utah Parents United said. “And this is a wonderful thing for parents to be able to make that choice.”

THE ENTIRE RELEASE FROM STRINGHAM IS BELOW:

As Chairwoman of the Salt Lake County Council, I will not be calling for a special session on the temporary health mandate at this time.

We have lines hours and miles long for COVID-19 testing. We have many schools who have hit the test to stay requirement or are expected to be there by week’s end. We are hearing from mayors who can no longer fully staff fire stations, essential positions, and their police officers are all in overtime. Our healthcare workers and first responders are facing staffing shortages for several reasons, including illness. Many companies are already taking the precaution of sending employees home to work and putting back prior health protections for their employees.

I have spent the time from Friday’s release of the Salt Lake County Public Health Order 2022-01 doing a full due diligence to understand and research the circumstances we are facing due to the Omicron Variant of COVID-19.

Salt Lake County realizes the need to step up and offer to the public a better solution for protection. The County has delivered N95 and KN95 masks to our senior centers and to all of the library branches for distribution to those who do not otherwise have the means to access a respirator or these more effective masks. N95 and KN95 masks are a proven protection the virus. I call upon the state of Utah, Utah School Districts, the Salt Lake County Mayor’s Office and Health Department to get these masks out of warehouse storage and into the hands of residents.

Instead of looking out for our fellow man, we have made this so incredibly political, divisive and uncivil. The ability to plan, discuss and work together no longer exists. Any one of these challenges, we, as an intelligent and creative society, could solve. But it has become clear that, if we are to solve problems without turning to government mandates, leadership will need to step up and be willing to work together. I am certain there were better ways we could get these higher quality masks out into the hands of the people, however this is the only tool currently available.

I recognize that not everyone can wear a mask and there are exemptions listed in the Public Health Order. There are students in school who will need exemptions as well. Due to some confusion, I want to clarify the following: No doctors’ notes are required by the order to get these exemptions, parents should notify the school if their child needs these exemptions, which include:

* those who cannot put on or remove the masks without assistance
* a medical condition, mental health condition or intellectual or developmental disability
* individuals who have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or an accommodation under Section 504 that allow for a mask exemption for the student and teacher to meet educational needs, such as Deaf or hearing impaired. (Although an IEP or 504 is not required for a learning exemption.)
Finally, I call on the public, government and political leaders, schools, businesses, really everyone, to be tolerant. Not everyone will comply, we expect that. We are working overtime to get higher quality protection out to the public as quickly as we can. It isn’t worth a fight or angry exchange to try and enforce compliance on someone else. Take care to properly protect yourself and your immediate family and allow others to do the same. Together we can make it through the Omicron spike and keep moving forward to immunity and hopefully leave the pandemic behind.

KSL 5 TV Live

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SL County Council chair will not call for special session on mask order