Utah governor reverses course, issues mask mandate

(UPDATED, 12:52 p.m., with details on businesses’ “open letter” on coronavirus.)

Saying the time for debate has passed, Utah’s Republican governor has reversed course and imposed a statewide mask mandate.

Gov. Gary Herbert announced the new state of emergency late Sunday night.

The orders included a two-week pause on school extracurricular activities, but not high school championships and intercollegiate sports, the Associated Press reported. “Casual social gatherings” will be limited to household members, the AP reported.

The mask mandate will go into effect Monday, and will remain in place “for the foreseeable future,” the Salt Lake Tribune reported.

In Utah, like Idaho, coronavirus case numbers and hospitalization rates are rising, placing pressure on the states’ health care systems.

On Oct. 26, Gov. Brad Little tightened some of Idaho’s coronavirus restrictions, in an attempt to slow the spread through casual social gatherings. In the ensuing two weeks, Idaho’s case numbers have not slowed — and the state reported a record number of new cases Saturday.

Little has long resisted a statewide mask mandate — instead appealing to Idahoans to act responsibly and saying local mask mandates will be more effective and better received. Members of the state’s Disaster Medical Advisory Committee last week sent Little a letter urging a statewide approach.

On Monday, Little spokeswoman Marissa Morrison Hyer continued to advocate for local decisionmaking.

“Gov. Little believes it is critical that we each choose to wear a mask to protect our neighbors and loved ones, and to keep our economy and schools open,” Hyer said.  “Idahoans value local control and the local approach to addressing important issues. Idaho law gives the authority to our mayors, health district boards and counties to set rules for public health. The governor will continue to support those local leaders who make tough decisions to protect our at-risk citizens. Gov. Little continues to have robust discussions with community leaders and the medical community about communicating to Idahoans the effectiveness of wearing masks to stop the spread and win the fight against COVID-19.”

Thirteen states have no mask requirements, Newsweek reported Monday. All 13 states have reported rising coronavirus case rates. And all 13 states have Republican governors, Newsweek reported.

Business group urges mask usage

In another development Sunday, 72 business leaders signed an “open letter” urging citizens to “use good old Idaho common sense” to combat the spread of coronavirus.

The open letter says the coronavirus is “creating havoc” in Idaho schools, but it stops short of calling for a statewide mandate.

“Wearing a mask, safe distancing, washing your hands, avoiding large crowds,” the letter read. “These are the only tools we have to keep our schools and businesses open and workers employed.”

All the signees are members of Idaho Business for Education, a statewide executives’ group. Among the notable names on the list: two members of Little’s State Board of Education, Kurt Liebich and Andy Scoggin; Dave Wagers, a Boise school trustee and president of Idaho Candy Co.; and David Little, the governor’s son and manager of Emmett-based Little Land and Livestock.

The letter appeared Sunday in the Nampa-based Idaho Press, the Idaho State Journal in Pocatello, and the Post Register in Idaho Falls. The three papers are owned by Adams Publishing, an IBE member, IBE president and CEO Rod Gramer said Monday.



Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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