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Citizen group pushes for voter referendum to stop Provo mask madate

(Utah County Commission members speaking to people opposing a mandate on masks in schools. Credit: Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News, July 15, 2020)

PROVO – It’s the next round in the political fight over Provo’s newly imposed mask mandate.  A citizens group called Utahns for Medical Freedom (UMF) wants to stop the Provo mask mandate by gathering enough signatures for a voter referendum on the matter.

History of the mask mandate

The Provo mask mandate has already gone through a tense political battle.  The city council approved it unanimously, only for it to be vetoed by Mayor Michelle Kaufusi.  Then, the council decided to override her veto with a 6-1 vote.

Officials with UMF acknowledge that people have wildly different opinions about the effectiveness of masks when it comes to public health.  However, organizer Mary Ann Nielsen believes the final say should still be left to the people of Provo.   She calls the masks draconian and invasive.

“It’s very unethical and very unconstitutional,” Nielsen said.

Masks aren’t like seat belts, group says

A mask order isn’t like other safety laws already on the books, according to Nielsen.  To her, this isn’t similar to ordinances requiring seat belts or motorcycle helmets.

“There’s a big difference between a seat belt, a helmet [and masks].  Those things don’t do any damage to your body.  Masks do cause damage to your body,” Nielsen said.

Provo mask mandate leads to carbon dioxide danger, group says

She says the masks force people to breathe in their own carbon dioxide, and she says there are studies showing the masks can increase the users’ odds of getting lung disease or staph infections. The American Lung Association says there’s some evidence that prolonged use of N-95 masks can cause problems for people with pre-existing lung conditions, but there’s no evidence wearing one will weaken the immune system.

Also, there are doctors who say it’s possible to get a staph infection from using a mask, but only when the user has an untreated wound on the face.  So, it’s quite rare.

What has to happen first

UMF officials believe they have enough support to get the required 3,200 signatures, but, they’re not allowed to collect them just yet.  City Recorder Amanda Ercanbrack says the city attorney will have to decide if the mandate is eligible for a referendum, which she believes it will be.  After that, the city has to create a fiscal note before UMF can get the materials they need for their petition.

“We’re looking at sometime around September 25th, most likely, when they will receive the petition materials.  At that point, they can begin collecting signatures,” Ercanbrack says.

Once they get those materials, the group has only 45 days to collect enough signatures.  However, no one should expect the referendum on this year’s ballot.  Ercanbrack says the deadline for this year has already passed.

“Regardless of the outcome, if they got enough signatures it wouldn’t appear on the ballot until 2021,” she said. 

The mandate is scheduled to sunset November 14th, unless the city decides to extend it.  If the group is successful in getting the signatures, the referendum would prevent the city from enacting the mandate until the voters make their decision.

How To Prevent the Spread of COVID-19Coronavirus

COVID-19 coronavirus is transmitted from person to person. It is a virus that is similar to the common cold and the flu. So, to prevent it from spreading:

  • Wash hands frequently and thoroughly, with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds.
  • Don’t touch your face.
  • Keep children and those with compromised immune systems away from someone who is coughing or sneezing (in this instance, at least six feet)
  • If there is an outbreak near you, practice social distancing (stay at home, instead of going to the movies, sports events, or other activities.)
  • Get a flu shot.

Local resources

KSL Coronavirus Q&A

Utah’s Coronavirus Information

UtahState Board of Education

Utah Hospital Association

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Utah Coronavirus Information Line – 1-800-456-7707

National Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Commonly asked questions, World Health Organization

Cases in the United States