Salt Lake City reissues mask order — this time with more detail about public gatherings

Mayor Erin Mendenhall’s office also argues the order doesn’t violate state’s COVID-19 “endgame” law.

(Rick Egan | Salt Lake Tribune file photo) Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall encourages people to keep wearing masks after the state mask mandate ends during a news conference in front of Santo Taco shop, Friday, March 19, 2021. The mayor and her staff rewrote her April 7 emergency declaration to create a citywide mask order.

Hours after declaring a citywide mask order for people in public settings, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall did it over again — this time with more detail.

A second proclamation, issued Wednesday night, was written “to be more specific about what is considered a ‘public setting’” than Mendenhall’s Wednesday afternoon declaration was, according to a statement Thursday from the mayor’s office.

Both proclamations aim to maintain a mask requirement in Utah’s capital after the statewide mandate expires Saturday — a provision of HB294, which the Utah Legislature passed and Gov. Spencer Cox signed.

The purpose of the new proclamation is the same as the previous one: to require people within Salt Lake City to “wear a face mask while in an indoor public setting,” as the new proclamation states. It also requires people to mask up in outdoor public settings if they’re within 6 feet of anyone not in their group — and comply with rules issued by the host of an event they are attending or a business they are frequenting.

The new proclamation includes legal definitions for whom an event host is, what is considered a face mask, and what’s a “public setting” and a “social gathering.”

The rewrite also includes exemptions for wearing face masks, such as “while actively eating or drinking,” or being alone in a room with members of one’s own household. It also states that gatherings at private residences aren’t covered under the mask order, nor are religious services.

The earlier proclamation — which the new one supersedes — was less specific. The rule it set was limited to a single paragraph, saying that anyone in the city limits “who is age 2 and over and able to medically or psychologically tolerate a face covering shall be required to wear a face covering that completely covers the nose and mouth when in any public area, including outdoors, when nonhousehold members are present and social distancing is not possible.”

Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, who sponsored and championed HB294, told The Salt Lake Tribune earlier that Mendenhall “has no authority to do that.” The law, Ray said, clearly states that only a county governing body — not individual cities — can extend the mandate. The Salt Lake County Council opted Wednesday not to set a countywide mask order.

Mendenhall’s office argues that she does have the authority. “HB294 relates only to health orders, not the mayor’s ability to exercise emergency powers to protect life in an emergency,” her office said in a Thursday statement to The Tribune. “HB294 empowers local health departments, which Salt Lake City itself does not have. But there are no restrictions for a city executive, like Mayor Mendenhall.”

Violating the emergency proclamation is considered a class B misdemeanor, subject to a maximum penalty of a $1,000 fine and six months in jail. In both versions of the proclamation, though, Mendenhall stressed that the order’s purpose “is to protect individuals’ life, health and safety and not to hold them criminally liable.” She asked prosecutors “to exercise discretion” before filing any charges.