Statewide mandate ends, but that doesn’t mean masks are gone

A statewide mask mandate ended Saturday, April 17, but that doesn’t mean masks are gone, including in counties such as Sanpete that are rated as having “low transmission” of COVID-19.

Snow College, public schools, federal offices and state offices, along with Sanpete Valley Hospital and Gunnison Valley Hospital, and their affiliated clinics, still require masks.

But most city halls are loosening or abandoning mask requirements. And retail stores, such as Walmart and Maverick, have taken down their “masks required” signs, although they still require staff members to wear masks at work.

“The state is telling us we’re still wearing masks until June 15,” says Ralph Squire, superintendent in the South Sanpete School District. 

Getting students to comply “is challenging,” he said. “When you can go downtown and you don’t have to wear masks….It’s hard to get students to wear them and wear them right.

Meanwhile, the vaccination effort continues in the county. The Manti office of the Central Utah Public Health Department reported vaccinating approximately 2,300 since the first of the year. The Mt. Pleasant office did not have a comparable estimate.

Besides administering shots to eligible residents at two drive-through clinics per week, a staff member said the two offices have vaccinated many patients in care centers, dentists, eye doctors, K-12 teachers, law enforcement officers, firefighters, and a few inmates at the county jail and Central Utah Correctional Facility.

The only official figures the CUPHD has for vaccinations are for the whole Six-County Area (Millard, Juab, Sanpete, Piute, Sevier and Wayne counties). The figures suggest the vaccination rate in Central Utah is lower than in the state or nation as a whole.

Termination of the statewide mask mandate did not come at the behest of public health officials. The Utah Legislature ordered it via a law passed in the last session.

Gov. Spencer Cox said he would have preferred leaving the mandate in place longer. “We were pushing for May,” he told the Deseret News. “We wanted to get more people vaccinated. But the Legislature wanted March, and we were able to get them to April.”

But the mask mandate law, and a companion measure, left considerable leeway for schools, colleges and state government. And, of course, business can do what they want about masks.

Marci Larsen, Snow College spokeswoman, referred the Messenger to the college’s COVID- 19 web page, which said, “Last week, the Governor’s Office said the mask mandate for state employees has been extended through May 31….We restate our expectation that employees and students continue to wear masks while in state facilities through the end of May.

“State law also requires that masks be worn in gatherings of 50+, which will include commencement.”

Both Superintendent Squire and North Sanpete Superintendent Nan Ault said their districts continue to require all students participating in sports and other extracurricular activities where they travel to other schools to compete, to be tested every two weeks. School nurses administer the tests.

At Manti High School, all students participating in practices for the promenade at the junior prom had to be tested. That was because a large group assembled multiple times in an indoor space, Squire said.

While masks haven’t necessarily been popular in public schools, they, along with social distancing, have worked, Squire said. “We haven’t had very many cases. We haven’t shut our schools down one day this year.”

At the Ephraim City Hall, a sign at the entrance says, “We love to see you smile, but keep it covered.”

But City Manager Sean Kjar said the city staff would be meeting Tuesday (after press time) to decide on the wording of a new sign. He said the new sign would probably say, essentially, that if you have any symptoms of any illness, wear a mask.

Kjar said so far, most people visiting city hall have worn masks. At city council meetings, “I will be wearing one, and some of our council members will be,” he said.

Ephraim, like a number of towns in the county, also offers Zoom links so any citizen can attend meetings virtually.

At Manti City, signs requiring masks are gone completely, staff are not wearing masks, and council members are not wearing masks at meetings.

Most retail business in the county appear to have backed away significantly from masks requirements.

A Walmart customer service representative said, “We really aren’t mandating masks anymore,” although a health ambassador stands by the door into the store offering a package of two surgical masks to anyone who requests one.

Walmart associates still go through a temperature check when they arrive at work. And they’re required to wear masks at all times while at work.

A sign at the Maverick entrance in Ephraim says, “Masks recommended.” During a visit, it appeared perhaps 25 percent of customers were wearing masks. But all staff members were wearing them.

One of the first retail stores in the county to require all employees to wear masks was Gunnison Hometown Market. At the request of several staff members, employees started wearing masks even before any general mask mandates were issued.

As of Monday, there was no sign related to COVID at the store entrance. But staff continue to wear masks.

Based on figures on the CUPHD website, the public health agency has administered approximately 14,000 first doses and 12,000 second doses.

Those numbers don’t include all vaccinations administered in pharmacies or an initiative by Intermountain Health Care to vaccinate its own health care workers.

The first doses administered by the health department translate to 17 percent of the population of the Six-County Area. Based on the number of second doses, 14.6 percent of the population is fully vaccinated.

In contrast, in the U.S. as a whole, 42.5 percent of the population has received one dose and 29 percent is fully vaccinated.

In Utah, according to the Utah State Health Department, 39 percent of the state population has received a first dose of COVID vaccine and 27 percent are fully vaccinated.