Utah’s ‘Pandemic Endgame’ bill sparks questions, squabbles in Summit County

PARK CITY, Utah. — No one knows exactly how HB294 will roll out a month from tomorrow.

The bill, dubbed ‘pandemic endgame,’ was approved by the state legislature last week and heads next to the governor’s desk. The bill would end Utah’s mask mandate (but leave in place mask requirements in schools and for large gatherings).

Gov. Spencer Cox has said he will not veto the bill, and that the recent expansion of vaccine eligibility in the state indicated Utah will be in good shape next month.

“We anticipate that by April 1st every adult in the state of Utah will be eligible for the vaccine,” Cox told Fox news, adding that he also expects Utah will “have about 1.5 million vaccines in the state by April 10, when that mandate goes away.”

Roughly a third of Utahns are now immune to COVID-19.

What will HB294 mean to travel-heavy, tourism-dependent Summit County, where carefree vacationers from around the globe gather to recreate and enjoy refreshments? Too soon to say. Summit County Health Department Director Rich Bullough said today that “there has been no decision made locally” regarding whether local mandates will continue.

Since last June, Summit County has required all residents aged two years old and above, with an exception for those with a medical condition or disability, wear masks in indoor public spaces and outdoors where physical distancing is not possible. More information about the mask requirement and other COVID protocols can be found here.

HB294 gives health departments the authority to require masks if local county commissions or councils approve health department requests to do so. It also would allow businesses to lift restrictions under these scenarios:

  • Utah’s 14-day case rate drops below 191 per 100,000 residents

  • Intensive care units are under 15% filled with COVID-19 patients over a seven-day average

  • Utah has received 1,633,000 first vaccine doses from the federal government

The bill also allows for individual businesses to make their own mask policies.

“Our intent was to end the mask mandate officially based on the covid metrics published every day by the health department,” said State Rep. Mike Kohler, whose district includes portions of Summit County, and who supported the measure. “Most of us think to governor and health department’s rules were too strict keeping everything shut down and giving some school districts an excuse to stay on remote learning. We’ll see how it goes. Keeping Utah businesses open has helped the state. Schools should do the same.”

As residents watch and wait for guidance on HB294’s local impacts, one thing is crystal clear: Locals are not done arguing about masks – their efficacy, their politics, their advantages versus their drawbacks. Hundreds of comments on social media threads since the legislature’s approval of HB294 reveal opinions as polarized as ever regarding whether masks represent safety or tyranny.

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