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Will Salt Lake County have its own mask mandate? Council awaits recommendation from health director.

Statewide face covering rule set to lapse this weekend, but county governing bodies can implement their own.

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) Mark Jenson, of Harmon's Grocery, speaks at a news conference along with Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall, encouraging citizens to keep wearing masks, after the state mask mandate ends, Friday, March 19, 2021.

Utah’s pandemic “endgame” law cancels the statewide mask mandate Saturday, and it’s still unclear whether local governments will enact their own requirements.

State lawmakers want all pandemic-related public health measures to end once three thresholds are met relating to intensive care unit beds, vaccinations and case counts. But in the meantime, they’re granting county legislative bodies, like commissions or councils, some leeway to take their own limited action. In Salt Lake County, council members have tentatively scheduled a special meeting on Friday to determine whether their mask mandate will continue.

Mayor Jenny Wilson, a Democrat, enacted the state’s first face covering requirement last June, which she credited with a correlating decline in cases. But under HB294, the mayor can’t unilaterally take action on masks. She’ll need a recommendation from the health department director and approval from the Republican-controlled council.

“Let’s not walk off the court before the shot goes in. Let’s not lose the game in the eighth inning and let’s not spike the ball before the end zone,” Wilson said in a video posted to social media Monday night, using sports analogies to illustrate how close the county is to ending the pandemic.

“Science and the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] agree, we need to continue mask-wearing until we get further along in this pandemic,” Wilson said.

The mayor added that only about a third of Salt Lake County residents have received the vaccine or are immune to the coronavirus.

“And our kids won’t be able to receive the vaccine for some time,” Wilson said. “People are still at risk, so let’s do the right thing in this community. Let’s wear our masks until the time is right to take them off.”

Republican council member Aimee Winder Newton also posted a video to her social media explaining the process ahead. The county’s health department director, Gary Edwards, will issue a recommendation on the need for masks on Wednesday.

“If he does not recommend a mask mandate, then the County Council has no decision to be made,” Newton said.

Newton reminded county residents that businesses could still require mask-wearing and urged patrons to be respectful of those choices.

“Let’s just all be kind to each other and recognize that we all have our different circumstances and want to be safe,” Newton said.

Meanwhile, Grand County is keeping its mask mandate until June 15, the Southeast Utah Health Department announced in a news release Tuesday.

The announcement says businesses may continue to require masks at their own discretion.

Regardless of whether a county government chooses to extend a mask mandate, all such requirements must end once the state has a 14-day COVID-19 caseload of less than 191 per 100,000 people, coronavirus patients occupy less than 15% of ICU beds, and the state obtains 1.63 million units of first-dose vaccine — even if the shots haven’t been administered.

As of Monday, the 14-day caseload is 179.4 per 100,000 people. Last week, COVID-19 patients occupied 9.7% of ICU beds. Utah has administered 1.5 million vaccines to date, with 976,434 people receiving their first dose.

— Tribune reporter Rebekah Wahlberg contributed to this story.

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