Keep your masks on to protect against COVID-19, Utah health experts say, even with statewide order expiring

The mandate will be lifted Saturday, but many businesses are keeping their mask rules in place.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Shoppers, wearing face masks, browse stores at City Creek Center, Mar. 13, 2021. Utah health experts are advising people to keep wearing masks in public, even after the statewide mask order expires on Saturday, April 10, 2021.

One day before the Utah Legislature’s expiration date on a statewide mask order arrives, health experts are telling Utahns to keep wearing their masks to ward off the spread of COVID-19.

“We need to be respectful to businesses when they ask for masking, because it is still relevant — both to their patrons who are coming in, but also their workers,” Dr. Kristin Dascomb, infectious diseases physician and Intermountain Healthcare’s medical director for infection protection for employee health, said Friday during Intermountain’s weekly COVID-19 briefing over Facebook Live.

Even people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, or people who don’t show any symptoms, should mask up, Dascomb said. “We can transmit this virus without knowing we even have it in the back of our throat,” she said. “So if we [don’t] wear a mask, we don’t know who else we’re infecting.”

Dascomb’s advice matches a recommendation from the Utah Public Health Association, which “encourages the continued use of masks in public, as well as adherence to social distancing,” the group said in a statement issued Thursday.

The association said it “applauds” Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall for issuing an emergency proclamation Wednesday to maintain a mask mandate in the state’s capital city. The group also pointed out that Gov. Spencer Cox — even after he signed HB294, which set Saturday as the day the state will lift the statewide rule — decided to keep mask rules in place in state buildings, including liquor stores.

The head of the Utah Department of Health also advised people to stay masked in public.

“Until more people have a chance to get vaccinated, we urge people to continue to wear masks in public places and around those who haven’t been vaccinated,” Richard Saunders, UDOH’s executive director, said in a statement Friday. “We’ve come so far and are so close to returning to normal. We ask for your patience and cooperation a little while longer.”

Many Utah businesses and organizations — including schools, universities and pro sports teams — are continuing COVID-19 protocols, including mask requirements, beyond Saturday.

Public schools, in grades kindergarten through 12 grades, will continue under a statewide mask order through June 15. According to UDOH, health officials asked the Utah Legislature to keep the mandate in schools because the vaccine is not authorized for children under 16 yet, some adults in schools are not yet vaccinated, and children can get sick from COVID-19 or transmit the virus to others.

The public health association, in its statement, asked “all Utahns to continue to take precautionary measures and to respect the COVID-19 requirements of private, nonprofit, and public agencies and businesses.”

Business owners in Utah, particularly in the service industry, have reported some patrons getting belligerent when being asked to wear masks in their places of business. Some of them said the state’s mask order took the heat off of those businesses — and the end of the state mandate could spur anti-mask people to rekindle their argument.

To the health experts, though, the argument is settled.

Dascomb pointed out that when Salt Lake County instituted its mask mandates last year, months before then-Gov. Gary Herbert ordered the statewide mask rule in November, “their [case] counts went down dramatically while the rest of the state’s continued to increase.”

Dascomb added: “We’ve learned very well that masking works in our communities. It helps keep our businesses open. It helps us interact with our families safely. It helps us enjoy moments together safely.”

The public health association noted that “the better we are at wearing masks and following other COVID-19 guidelines now, the more confidently we can return to normalcy sooner than later and, most importantly, to improved public health.”