With a 45-29 final vote in the House on Friday, the Republican-led Utah Legislature overturned two public health orders requiring masks in Salt Lake and Summit counties. The House vote followed the Senate’s approval of the resolution on Tuesday, the first day of the 2022 General Session.
House Republicans justified their vote to end the mask mandates by arguing the government does not have a role in handling pandemics, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.
“I believe we have done a disservice throughout this country as we’ve approached the COVID-19 pandemic in trying to find government solutions,” said Rep. Jordan Teuscher, R-South Jordan. “The proper role of government, in this case, is to educate and to advocate, not mandate.”
Dr. Angela Dunn, executive director of the Salt Lake County Health Department, issued a public health order two weeks ago in response to record COVID-19 case numbers and the prevalence of the omicron variant. Following its announcement, the Salt Lake County Council did not secure enough votes to overturn the order, but Chair Laurie Stringham noted at the time that state legislators were looking to do so.
Aimee Winder Newton, a Republican council member of Salt Lake County who voted to uphold the health order, issued a statement expressing disagreement with the legislature’s decision.
“It is disappointing that although our county followed the law, the state legislature still chose to intervene and dismiss the decision we made to protect our residents,” Winder Newton said.
Salt Lake Community College responds
In an email signed by President Deneece Huftalin and sent out Friday, Salt Lake Community College announced changes to its masking protocol following the legislature’s decision.
“Although the mask order has been rescinded, Salt Lake Community College continues to strongly encourage the use of face coverings while on campus and while attending college events,” the email read.
The email also announced that the college has ordered KN95 masks for faculty and frontline workers, adding, “Details regarding distribution will be made available early next week and published in the January 26 issue of SLCC Today.”