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Utah governor says mask mandate does not apply to state buildings; Salt Lake mayor disagrees

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Kim Jarrett | The Center Square

(The Center Square) – Utah Governor Spencer Cox said he supports Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson's decision to enact a mask mandate and he is encouraging residents to comply with the order. 

"However, counties do not have the authority to bind the state and, as such, a county order does not apply to state buildings," Cox said in a statement posted Monday on Twitter. "We stand by our earlier guidance to state employees to encourage but not require masks in state facilities and we continue to urge all Utahans to be vaccinated and boosted."

Salt Lake City Mayor Jenny Wilson said in a statement to Fox13 the county can enforce the mandate in state-run buildings.

"While I appreciate the governor’s authority on many levels, he does not have the authority to exempt state buildings and employees from the Salt Lake County mask requirement and is defying a public health order of constraint," Wilson said. "With omicron cases threatening our community not only is this a blatant disregard for the law by our state’s chief elected officer, but a disregard for the health of our community and local authority."

The executive director of the Salt Lake County Health Department issued the 30-day executive order Friday as cases in the county and state are rising because of the omicron variant. Utah health officials reported 24,000 new cases over the weekend. 

Lawmakers are return to Salt Lake City on Jan. 18 to begin the 2022 legislative session. Lawmakers passed a bill last year banning counties from implementing mask mandates that extend past 30 days. The Legislature and city or county officials are the only ones with the authority to extend an order. 

House Majority Leader Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, asked Salt Lake County officials to reconsider. 

"While they may be well-intended, government mandates are not the answer," Schultz said in a Facebook post.  "They have resulted in unnecessary divisiveness that is tearing our communities and our state apart."

Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said in statement he believes Utahans have the "ability to use good judgement to make personal choices without interference from the government."

"I support individual's right to wear or not wear a mask," Adams said. "We need to deal with COVID calmly, rationally and review and apply what we have learned over the past 22 months. We should take a balanced approach of saving lives, livelihoods and kids' education while preserving personal liberties."