Utahns can pick up free masks at grocery stores, thanks to state program

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Customers at all Harmons Grocery stores in Utah are required to wear face mask while shopping, the company said Friday, June 26, 2020.

Besides picking up milk, bread and toilet paper at the grocery store, Utahns also can get a free mask.

Stores across the state now have more than 140,000 free face coverings to distribute to residents as part of the “A Mask for Every Utahn” initiative, officials announced Monday.

Masks are available at more than 225 grocery stores and pharmacies, hardware stores, convenience stores and other retail outlets, officials from the Governor’s Office of Economic Development said in a news release.

Customers can request a reusable cloth mask by visiting a customer service station at participating outlets. All stores owned by Associated Foods — from Kent’s Market in Brigham City to Lin’s in St. George — have the free face coverings, as do all Harmons, Reams, Rancho Markets and Smith’s Food & Drug stores.

The full list of participating stores is available here.

Stores that serve “vulnerable or underserved populations are being prioritized for the distribution,” officials said in Monday’s release. The masks were made available as part of a partnership among GOED, the Utah Food Industry Association, Associated Foods and Kroger, which owns Smith’s stores in the state.

Ben Hart, GOED deputy director and the state employee leading the mask initiative, said the state used federal funds to pay for the production of masks.

“Using a face covering in public,” he said, “is a gesture of respect for those around you, and an essential part of limiting the spread of COVID-19.”

Using grocery stores to distribute the masks has been part of the initiative’s plans since its onset, Hart said. The program also has done some targeted distributions to nonprofits and other groups that serve vulnerable populations

“Local grocery and convenience stores and their front-line workers have been a critical staple in their communities during this global pandemic,” said Dave Davis, president and chief legal officer at the Utah Food Industry Association. “Partnering with the state of Utah to provide much-needed masks to its citizens is a privilege and a natural fit for our industry.”

Overall, “A Mask for Every Utahn” provided 2.3 million face coverings, according to a state news release. The initiative filled nearly 1.24 million requests from almost 280,000 household orders and provided masks to K-12 schoolchildren, teachers and staff in the state, amounting to approximately 750,000 masks.

The program also saved or created 300 jobs, according to the Utah Manufacturers Association, which partnered with the state on the face covering initiative.