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Anti-mask crowd fills Utah County Commission meeting on mask mandate, meeting abruptly called off

(The audience attending the Utah County Commission meeting July 15, 2020. Chair Tanner Ainge ended the meeting early, saying the crowd wasn't following physical distancing guidelines. Credit: Utah County Government, YouTube)

PROVO – It was supposed to be an open meeting where Utah County Commission residents could weigh in on a proposed request for flexibility in the state’s school facemask mandate.  Instead, the Utah County Commission called it off, saying the crowd made it unsafe. 

Before the Utah County Commission meeting even started, a group of protestors rallied outside of the Utah County Historic Courthouse.  Most of them are against requiring masks for school kids, saying the mandate takes away a teacher’s and a parent’s ability to decide what is best for their children.  They made signs saying, “Let kids be kids.  No masks,” and chanted things like, “No more masks.”

(Some of the people protesting the state’s face mask madate for schools. Credit: Paul Nelson)

One woman says, “I think the role of local government has been expanded to the point where it shouldn’t be.  I don’t think it’s the job of local government to adopt mask mandates in school or just in general.”

Many people who support the idea of a mask mandate say it would be similar to seat belt laws or rules regarding motorcycle helmets.  However, one protestor says even those go too far.

She asks, “Why are we required to wear seat belts?  Why are we required to wear a helmet?  All of it stems with government getting involved when they shouldn’t get involved.”

There were some people at the rally showing full support for a mask mandate.  They showed signs saying things like, “Wearing a mask is a sign of compassion,” “COVID is no respecter of persons,” and, “Latter Day Saints are not immune.”  One woman says there are too many older and immuno-compromised people who will become seriously ill due to children carrying the virus.

“Is my constitutional ‘right’ to spread my germs any different than your constitutional right to not get my germs?” she asks.

(Commissioner Bill Lee, speaking to the crowd before the meeting. Behind him, people holding signs, some for, some against the mandate. Credit: Paul Nelson)

Before the meeting started, Commissioner Bill Lee spoke to the crowd.  It was his proposed request that was going to be up for discussion.  He told them he was in favor of children wearing masks at school, but he believes the mandate isn’t flexible enough to allow teachers to make exceptions when they see a need.  Lee also wanted to explain how the commission meeting would be conducted and told the crowd there wouldn’t be enough room for everyone to be seated.

He told the people at the rally, “When you go in there, a few of you will be able to go in, and you’ll see we have taped off areas in which you can sit in appropriate distancing, and you’ll see some Xs outside and a TV screen up in the foyer area.”

However, when the meeting started, the commission chambers filled to near capacity. 

(The meeting officially starts at 7:40 in the video)

Chair Tanner Ainge drew boos from the crowd as he told them they were doing the exact opposite of what health officials recommend.

“We are supposed to be physically distancing, wearing masks,” Ainge said.  “All of our medical experts, our department of health… everyone is encouraging us to do that.”

Seconds later, Ainge adjourned the meeting, citing public safety concerns.

Ainge said, “This room is not complying with these health guidelines and this creates a health concern for this meeting, so, I’m going to suspend the rules and I’m going to make a motion to continue this entire meeting to another date.”

KSL Newsradio afternoon host Jeff Caplan spoke with Ainge just hours after the meeting. The full interview is below:


Lee requested time to discuss the matter, but Ainge and Commissioner Nathan Ivie decided to end it, bringing loud boos from the audience.  After the official meeting was cut short, Lee and Ivie stayed for an unofficial listening session.  Paramedics were called after one woman reportedly had a panic attack after not being able to speak to Ainge.

Ainge did not announce when the next commission meeting will take place.  He tells the Deseret News they will place a public notice about the rescheduled meeting next week.  Ainge also says he’s looking into changing the setting and possibly holding the meeting online.