Summit County tweaks mask mandate, outlining appeal requirements
The Summit County Council Wednesday amended its mask mandate to streamline the appeals process for those who do not wish to comply and responded to complaints from the public that the mandate was onerous and not based in science.
On June 26, the county mandated that masks must be worn in public places with limited exceptions. At the time, councilors said the intention was to apply to indoor establishments like businesses and not outdoors like when people are riding a bike or hiking.
The order was amended Wednesday to allow face shields as well as cloth face coverings and to clarify that parental supervision is necessary when young children are wearing masks and that children would not be required to wear a mask when sleeping, like during naptime at a child care facility. Children under 2 remain exempt from the mandate.
Summit County Health Director Rich Bullough said the Health Department had received a number of complaints, many from representatives of fitness businesses like yoga studios and gyms. He said the Board of Health would likely hear appeals to the order in coming weeks.
As it stands, anyone in Summit County must cover their face when in a publicly accessed indoor establishment. That includes people playing tennis indoors at the PC MARC or in an exercise class or working out in a gym, officials have said.
Already this has led to confrontations in the community between those who wear masks and those who do not.
Officials have said one of the reasons behind mandating masks is to support the workers at businesses who are in the position of having to tell patrons they must wear masks.
Local law enforcement has been tasked with enforcing the mask mandate, but have said they will pursue an “education-first” strategy and will not seek to punish non-mask wearers. Violating the order is punishable as an infraction, like not wearing a seatbelt, with a penalty of up to $750.
Bullough said the Health Department hopes to bundle groups of appeals together in business sectors to be able to provide blanket rulings.
Officials indicated Wednesday those appeals should include data as to why wearing a mask would pose a greater health risk in a particular situation than not wearing one.
The council also voted to amend the order to clarify that individuals who are alone at work do not have to wear a mask.
One member of the public, Todd Follmer, told the council it was on the complete wrong track when it came to combating the virus.
“I don’t think you have the law on your side, either. I think that we don’t need to be babysit as U.S. citizens,” he said. “… To prevent me to be able to exercise and maintain my mental health through exercise because you’re afraid someone’s going to get sick … makes no sense to me whatsoever.”
Councilors responded that the law is clear when it comes to governmental power during times of crisis like pandemics.
The elected officials portrayed the mask mandate as one of the last tools available to them before seeking to go back to a higher-risk response phase and shutting down businesses once again. They stressed that the measure was taken to protect the economically crucial winter ski season and asked the public for patience.
Councilor Chris Robinson characterized this time as one where the county could experiment with how it handles the virus. He said the experiment in lessening restrictions has led to an increase of COVID-19 in the community, and that so far, the experiment with mandating masks has seemed to increase the number of people who are wearing them.
Councilor Kim Carson pointed out that older generations are more susceptible to the most serious health effects of the virus and also tend to have more disposable income. Creating an environment where older residents are comfortable getting out into the community could help a local economy that is struggling to recover, she said.
Follmer, in a cordial back-and-forth with officials, said it bothered him there was no dissenting voice on the council and that the elected body acted in lockstep to restrict individual freedom in the name of fighting COVID-19.
“What you’re doing is delaying the inevitable. You need to let everybody else get the disease and get over it,” he said.
Bullough pushed back on the notion of developing herd immunity within the community through exposure to the disease. He indicated he found the idea of sacrificing older generations to be anathema and said that widespread exposure is still a long ways off.
He described a recent, as-yet-unpublished study by the University of Utah that looked at antibody tests in Summit, Salt Lake, Davis and Utah counties. At 4% of residents projected to have antibodies, Summit County has about double the prevalence rate of COVID-19 compared to Salt Lake and Davis counties, Bullough said.
But he has said the lowest definitions of herd immunity are when 70% of a population is immune because of exposure, and that traditional public health definitions put that number around 90%.
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