Plexiglass barriers being removed from Utah House chamber

Many members complained the barriers did nothing to protect against spreading the coronavirus, calling them “hygiene theater.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Members of the House of Representatives are partitioned by plexiglass as the Utah State Legislature opens the 2021 legislative session at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021. The plexiglass partitions on the House floor to prevent the spread of COVID-19 can be removed if legislators request it.

The Utah House is removing many of the plexiglass dividers that were installed prior to the start of the 2021 session as a precautionary measure against the possible spread of the coronavirus.

In an email sent to all House members by Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, and shared with The Salt Lake Tribune, representatives have the option of having their glass partitions removed.

“Due to concerns in the chamber regarding airflow and difficulty hearing, you may elect to have the plexiglass around your desk removed,” wrote Wilson. “We encourage those of you with any underlying health conditions or any of those who would like to keep their plexiglass up to do so.”

“Many members also had difficulty seeing the display boards because of glare. Members will be asked to continue diligently wearing masks, testing regularly and those that want to keep their plexiglass are able to,” said Wilson in a text message on Sunday.

The Utah Senate chamber, which is much smaller than the House, does not have dividers in place.

Several members complained that the glass partitions did little to isolate members on the floor as they could simply lean back to hold a conversation with their nearby colleagues. Some House members derisively referred to the dividers as “hygiene theater.”

“I just hope it helps us hear better! It is so hard to hear each other over masks, plexiglass, and the HVAC system,” said House Minority Caucus Manager Andrew Stoddard, D-Sandy.

“I appreciate the extraordinary efforts legislative staff took to help this be a safe session, but as we got going we realized the plexiglass did little to stop you from talking to your neighbor anyway,” added Rep. Mike Winder, R-West Valley City.

Other protective measures will remain in place, including mandatory mask-wearing for anyone on the floor and twice weekly testing for members, staffers and interns.

At least one legislator has been hospitalized due to COVID-19, while a handful of others have tested positive.

The barriers that are removed will be donated to the Salt Lake City School District.