CORONAVIRUS UTAH

Mayor Wilson calls out Cox after comments about masks in state-owned buildings

Jan 10, 2022, 4:01 PM | Updated: 5:01 pm
FILE PHOTO (Mike Anderson/KSL TV)...
FILE PHOTO (Mike Anderson/KSL TV)
(Mike Anderson/KSL TV)

SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Spencer Cox and Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson appear to be at odds over the county’s mask mandate.

According to an email circulated by the Utah Department of Health and Human Services on Sunday, the governor provided “statewide direction and guidance” to all state departments. In it, he says that state-owned facilities will not require employees or visitors to wear masks inside.

“Exceptions are state-operated 24-7 congregate care facilities that have existing mask requirements, the UDOH health clinic, and UDOH on-site structures for COVID-19 testing (sometimes known as “conexes”),” the email stated.

But Wilson questioned the governor’s authority to do that, saying Senate Bill 195 gives the local executive authority or local legislative body power to override a county health order, not the governor.

She issued a statement Monday, saying, in part, “With Omicron cases threatening our community, not only is this a blatant disregard for the law by our state’s chief elected officer, but a disregard for the health of our community and local authority. I would expect the Governor to set an example for us all by following the law during this challenging time.”

Wilson’s statement reads in full:

“I have learned that Governor Cox has directed that with limited exceptions the mask requirement established by Salt Lake County will not apply to state buildings and the employees and visitors to those buildings.

While I appreciate the Governor’s authority on many levels, he does not have the authority to exempt state buildings and employees from the Salt Lake County mask requirement and is defying a public health order of constraint.

With Omicron cases threatening our community not only is this a blatant disregard for the law by our state’s chief elected officer, but a disregard for the health of our community and local authority. I would expect the Governor to set an example for us all by following the law during this challenging time.

Last year the legislature passed SB195, which created a process whereby health orders of “constraint” can be issued by a local health department. Those orders can be terminated by the local chief executive officer within 72 hours of issuance, or they can be overridden by the local legislative body at any time. The legislation does not allow for the Governor to disregard the local health order.”

Cox shared a written statement to social media a few hours later, saying, in part, “Under current state law, counties can issue health orders for their individual counties. We support Mayor Wilson in this regard and we encourage people in counties where a mask mandate has been issued to comply with that health order.”

He went on to say, however, that counties do not have the authority to “bind the state,” meaning a county order does not apply to state buildings.

The governor concluded his statement by saying, “We stand by our earlier guidance to state employees to encourage but not require masks in state facilities, and we continue to urge all Utahns to be vaccinated and boosted.”

Reactions from other Utah leaders

Utah State Senate President J. Stuart Adams also shared his thoughts regarding government mandates.

“I support individuals’ right to wear or not wear a mask. However, we need to deal with COVID calmly, rationally and review and apply what we have learned over the past 22 months,” he said in a written statement Monday afternoon.

He concluded by saying, “I have full confidence in Utahns’ ability to use good judgment to make personal choice without interference from the government.”

The statement reads in full:

“I support individuals’ right to wear or not wear a mask. However, we need to deal with COVID calmly, rationally and review and apply what we have learned over the past 22 months. We should take a balanced approach of saving lives, livelihoods and kids’ education while preserving personal liberties. We need to continue informing and providing Utahns with as many resources as possible, including making testing, vaccines/boosters and therapeutics readily available. After almost two years into the pandemic, I have full confidence in Utahns’ ability to use good judgment to make personal choices without interference from the government.”

Utah Senate Majority Leader Mike Schultz issued a statement in which he called upon Salt Lake County leaders and other jurisdictions in the state to reconsider the mask mandate.

“While they may be well-intended, government mandates are not the answer. They have resulted in unnecessary divisiveness that is tearing our communities and our state apart,” the statement read, in part.

He then urged Utahns to take responsibility for their own actions.

“While I stand adamantly against government mandates, I believe it is imperative for all of us to take personal responsibility to decrease our risk of infection, reduce the burden on our healthcare workers, and protect those around us.”

The full statement is included below:

“Over the weekend, Salt Lake County’s mask mandate went into effect, requiring all in the county to wear a mask for the next month. I’m calling on them, and other jurisdictions in the state, to reconsider their actions. Instead, they should be focused on providing the best information possible to their residents regarding masks, vaccinations, and other prevention measures as well as early treatment information to prevent hospitalizations.

While they may be well-intended, government mandates are not the answer. They have resulted in unnecessary divisiveness that is tearing our communities and our state apart.

While I stand adamantly against government mandates, I believe it is imperative for all of us to take personal responsibility to decrease our risk of infection, reduce the burden on our healthcare workers, and protect those around us. Among other things, we should stay home when sick, telework when possible, practice good personal hygiene, and most importantly, live a healthy lifestyle. Additionally, Utahns should work with their healthcare provider to discuss whether to be vaccinated and what treatment options are available should they get sick.

We must come together, take responsibility for our own actions, and look to the future with optimism and we can do all of that without the heavy hand of the government.”

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Mayor Wilson calls out Cox after comments about masks in state-owned buildings