With the Delta variant spreading like wildfire, vaccination rates lower than hoped, and implementation of mask mandates made overly-political and difficult—or in the case of public schools, outright illegal (thanks to the Utah Legislature)—many Utahns are worried about how their communities will fare in the coming weeks and months with schools reopening and public gatherings headed indoors to avoid the chill of fall and winter.
And those worries are well founded.
But while it’s certainly a scary and borderline absurd situation we find ourselves in—(1.5 years in and we still have to push our elected officials to do the right thing on pandemic response!)—we shouldn’t succumb to helplessness. Here are two things you can do right now to aid in the fight against COVID:
- Tell Governor Cox to call the legislature into session
In its last special session, the Utah Legislature passed a few bills that tie the hands of localities—including county health departments and school districts—on mask mandates and overall pandemic response. HB1007 and HB294 were both passed by the Legislature and signed into law earlier this year by Gov. Spencer Cox, and they both make it harder—if not impossible—for local leaders to protect their communities in the instance of a public health crisis.
It is imperative that Gov. Cox call the Legislature into special session to fix their mistakes on pandemic response. Lawmakers must free local health departments and public schools from their constraints and allow them to make the best decisions for their communities, students, teachers, and staff, particularly when it comes to mask mandates.
- These bills tie the hands of local school districts and health departments, taking away their ability to create policies consistent with CDC guidelines. Current guidelines recommend “universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.”
- By requiring that county health departments receive approval from county legislative bodies before issuing a mask mandate, the Legislature unnecessarily injected politics into pandemic response.
- Private businesses are free to require masks to protect their employees and customers. But this is not an option for protecting Utah’s public-school teachers, students, and staff, nor does it provide the necessary blanket-coverage to defend against such an easily transmissible virus.
- Since children under 12 cannot be vaccinated, they are at risk of becoming seriously ill themselves, as well as carrying the COVID-19 virus home to grandparents and other vulnerable family members.
- Ask your county leaders to support a mask mandate
As indicated above, one of the ways the Legislature tied the hands of local authorities in responding to COVID is by requiring that county health departments receive approval from county legislative bodies, like county commissions, before it can issue public health orders that require masks. While this injects unnecessary bureaucracy and politics into pandemic response and should ultimately be done away with, it’s what we’ve got to work with right now unless the Legislature fixes that policy.
Click here to find the contact information for your county government and ask them to work with the local health department to consider a mask mandate.
- According to the Utah Department of Health, Utah is in the top 10 states for COVID surge, and schools begin to re-open later this month. Students under the age of 12 are unable to be vaccinated, and without the protection of universal masking in schools, they will become COVID hotspots.
- A county-wide mask mandate would add a layer of protection for schools, even if local school districts are unable to take action because of the Legislature.
- The Utah Department of Health says the state saw a 160% increase in K-12 COVID cases over the past year, and that rate could go up.
- If we don’t take precautions now to protect our communities, our shared hospital resources will be depleted and everyone, regardless of COVID status, will be at risk for rationed care.
- Unchecked spread of COVID and overfull hospitals will result in further hits to the economy and small businesses.