7 businesses in Summit County issued violation notices after mask mandate noncompliance
Shortly after Gov. Gary Herbert implemented a statewide mask mandate in early November, Summit County Health Department officials ordered seven businesses to come into compliance with the mask requirement or risk thousands of dollars in fines, according to Summit County Attorney Margaret Olson.
Olson declined to name the businesses, though she said they were not bars, restaurants or hotels. The Park Record submitted a public records request seeking additional information.
Olson indicated that the businesses’ employees were not wearing masks, violating both state and county health orders.
She said the noncompliant businesses were spread across the county geographically and that six of the seven immediately rectified the issues, while Olson’s office was waiting for information from the seventh.
She added that enforcement was a last resort and that the county would rather businesses and individuals comply voluntarily.
Enforcement began after the county received persistent reports from the public on a hotline the county set up to respond to issues regarding the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The violations were then observed by Health Department officials, who proceeded to personally serve the notices of violation. The businesses were given a few days to come into compliance, Olson said.
Penalties for violating the mask mandate range up to $10,000, though Olson indicated that officials could use discretion to reduce the fine based upon a business’s ability to pay.
She characterized the businesses’ motivation as resistance to the government’s power to mandate mask wearing rather than ignorance of the regulations, referring to the businesses as “intentionally non-compliant.”
“We’re only going to penalize people if we have no choice,” Olson said in an interview Tuesday. “… The message we’re trying to send is, we’re trying to stay safe to stay open. It’s for the viability of the businesses.”
When Herbert issued the statewide mask mandate, his office also issued an emergency Utah Occupational Safety and Health division rule enabling that office to enforce a mandate that every employee wear a mask while at work.
Olson said that a state official had reported that the Utah Department of Labor received hundreds of complaints about noncompliance in the weeks after the rule was issued Nov. 9. She indicated that the specter of state enforcement hastened the county’s enforcement actions.
“We’re giving businesses notices that enforcement is coming, giving them every chance in the world to comply before the state comes in,” Olson said. She added that no fines have yet been levied.
Olson said the county was moved to act in response to the statewide surge in cases and concurrent dwindling of hospital capacity that also inspired the governor’s order.
When the statewide order came down late on a Sunday night in early November, Summit County’s mask mandate had already been in place for months.
Local law enforcement officials say that, by the fall, wearing masks had become routine for most residents, and that they hadn’t seen the kind of anti-mask disputes that have led to police involvement in other regions.
The Park City Police Department and Summit County Sheriff’s Office reported that they haven’t issued any citations regarding the local mask mandate, and that after a bumpy initial rollout, mask-wearing has become “the new normal.”
“We haven’t had any enforcement issues,” Park City Police Captain Phil Kirk said in an interview Monday. “We get occasional requests to check out a situation. When we contact the individuals involved, people are pretty cooperative and people are willing to comply with restrictions. It might be some type of misunderstanding, but nobody’s gone to the level of issuing a citation.”
Sheriff’s Lt. Andrew Wright added that the office hasn’t dealt with many complaints.
“We feel like people are doing their part, or at least seem to be doing their part, in wearing them,” Wright said. “Our stance has been what it has always been since the beginning: We enforce through education, let them know what the local mask mandate is.”
Both lawmen reported that a handful of officers had contracted COVID-19, but that none experienced severe complications and that all are back to work.
Kirk reported that Park City officers still carry extra face coverings and will hand them out to people who might need one.
Wright expressed gratitude that the area has not experienced the anti-mask vitriol that has roiled other areas of the country, saying it indicated that Summit County residents knew what was required to keep local small businesses open amid the pandemic.
He added that big-box stores like Walmart and Home Depot had helped lead the way in requiring customers and employees to wear masks.
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