SALT LAKE CITY — The compromised version of an “endgame bill” within the Utah Legislature that would end the statewide mask mandate passed the House Wednesday, potentially handing those decisions back to local health departments.
While the bill would get rid of a statewide mandate in general, the legislation would uphold mask mandates for K-12 schools and large gatherings until the state meets additional criteria.
HB294, which has undergone amendments within the legislature for over a month, passed the House by a 51-20 vote — facing opposition from House Democrats who worried it was government overreach in a decision that should be left to public health officials.
“I think this should be left to consultation with medical experts,” said Rep. Suzanne Harrison, D-Draper, to the House. “I don’t think us legislating this prescriptive type of language is going to help our economy or help the people of Utah.”
‘Endgame bill’ offers criteria to end mask requirements
While the bill upholds local mask requirements for large gatherings and businesses, those directives would expire once the state meets other criteria such as:
- Statewide 14-day case rate below 191 per 100,000 people
- ICU units are lower than 15% full with COVID-19 patients for more than a 7-day average
- The federal government allocates more than 1,633,000 first doses of the vaccine to Utah
Utah reported 611 new COVID-19 cases Thursday with a total of 785,523 total vaccines administered throughout the state.
The passage of the bill comes just days after Texas and Mississippi lifted their statewide mask mandates this week, despite warnings from federal health officials that it was too early for such a measure. Officials are especially concerned with Texas, where vaccinations are considerably lower than the national average and more than 7,000 cases are reported daily.
“The last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking that in the meantime, everything’s fine, take off your mask and forget it,” President Joe Biden told reporters at the White House Wednesday. “It’s critical, critical, critical, critical that they follow the science.”
Some worry it’s government overreach; others say it’s not enough
The bill passed the House Wednesday, heading to the Senate for further action. It’s unclear whether Gov. Spencer Cox would sign the legislation with its current language, or if the Senate will adjust some of the criteria to make it more amenable.
“We appreciate the Legislature’s willingness to listen to the input of public health officials and all stakeholders as they work through this process,” Cox said in a statement sent to the Deseret News. “We’re watching this bill closely because the stakes are so high for the health of Utahns. We need to get this right.”
Groups like the Alliance for a Better Utah, a progressive group dedicated to holding the government accountable, said the measure moves too quickly.
“We all want the pandemic to end and having a framework for how Utah gets back to normal post-COVID is a good idea, but choosing an arbitrary end date is unnecessary and risky,” said Lauren Simpson, policy director, in a statement. “After a year of sacrifices and struggles, the last thing Utahns need is to risk a fourth wave because over-eager lawmakers are personally tired of the pandemic and pushed the state back to normalcy too soon.”
Some House Republicans, on the other hand, argued the measure doesn’t do enough — arguing the bill should eliminate the mask requirement altogether.
“We’re trying to find a way to say we’re done. And I think this bill is what does that,” said Rep. Paul Ray, the bill’s sponsor, to his House colleagues on Wednesday. “We actually give our constituents the hope and the light that we’re just about through this.”
How To Prevent the Spread of COVID-19 Coronavirus
COVID-19 coronavirus spreads person to person, 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.
- Wear a mask to protect yourself and others per CDC recommendations.
- 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).
- Obtain a flu shot.
Utah Coronavirus Information Line – 1-800-456-7707
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