How the governor and lawmakers settled on April 10 to lift the statewide mask mandate

Gov. Spencer Cox says they wouldn’t wait until everyone had a chance to get the vaccine so ‘The Legislature owns this now.’

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Gov. Spencer Cox steps into the House chamber following Rep. Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, motion Friday night that the Legislature hear from “Gov. Gary Herbert.” The legislative session ended March 5, after lawmakers passed a bill ending the statewide mask mandate April 10. Cox said in an interview Wednesday that the Legislature wouldn't wait any longer so it now "owns" the consequences.

Gov. Spencer Cox says he essentially had no choice but to agree to the April 10 date to end the state’s mask mandate, part of the so-called “pandemic endgame” bill passed by lawmakers on the final night of the 2021 session.

Cox says he had planned on lifting the statewide mask mandate once every adult in the state who wanted the COVID-19 vaccine had an opportunity to get their shots, but legislators didn’t want to wait.

“They made it clear they wanted to get rid of masks immediately, and they could get a veto-proof majority in the House and Senate. So, that’s obviously where those negotiations started,” said Cox, who was sworn in in January.

Had Cox held the line and vetoed the bill, the end date probably wouldn’t have been much different. By law, Cox has until March 25 to take action on bills. Had he waited until the last possible moment to issue a veto, lawmakers could have held a veto override session a few days later.

In the end, April 10 may have bought a few extra days of mask mandate, and accomplished it without Cox antagonizing with a veto.

“We just realized every extra day we could get was a win for us. The Department of Health was negotiating, and the closest they could get was April 1, so I came to the table and was able to push that out to April 10,” says Cox.

On Wednesday, Cox’s administration said they will open up vaccinations to every adult in the state on April 1, and they expect to have 1.5 million doses of the vaccine by the April 10 deadline.

Cox also said he was able to keep some restrictions in place, as lawmakers initially wanted to completely do away with masks in the state.

“We went from all masks going away immediately, and now we keep masks in school and we keep masks in gatherings over 50 people and we get an extra month from what was proposed,” said Cox. “That’s why we were willing to sign off on that.”

The April 10 date was important for another reason, said Cox, as it gives more people time to get vaccinated, reducing the overall risk.

Lawmakers now are on the hook for anything that happens from here on out since they made the decision to step in and decide when restrictions begin to go away, the governor said.

“The Legislature owns this now,” he said. “They’ve said all along they wanted to be more involved, and now they get that. If things start going the other way, then we’ll call them back and lay this in front of them.”

He added, “I don’t think this is the worst thing in the world to have them involved. It could be the worst thing if they refuse to listen to the experts and do the right thing.”

You can hear the full interview with Cox on the upcoming episode of the “Utah Politics” podcast, which will be available on Friday.