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Summit County legislators explain their mask mandate votes (updated)

Utah statehouse.jpg
KPCW
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The Utah State Capitol

State Reps. Kera Birkeland and Mike Kohler, two Republicans who represent Summit County, voted to end the local mask mandate. Rep. Brian King, a Democrat, voted not to.

In a message to KPCW, Birkeland said she thought Summit County’s 45-day mask mandate violated state law by extending longer than 30 days.

She said, while she supports local control, local control isn’t evident in Kamas or Coalville, where she said the COVID-19 numbers aren’t the same as in Park City but the same mandate is in place.

"How is that local control?" she said. She continued, "While I support local control, I don’t support force. I don’t support any government, no matter how local, mandating what I put in my body or on my face.”

King, the House minority leader, called it a “sad day for the Legislature.”

“It's just foolhardy, I think, to ignore the best counsel and advice that we're getting from our public health experts,” he said. “Our public health experts are saying, ‘Look, masks aren’t a silver bullet. For that matter, vaccines aren’t a silver bullet. But they certainly help slow the spread of the virus.’”

Kohler said, while he isn’t a medical expert, everything he’s read shows that masks don’t help against the omicron variant of the virus.

He said he received at least ten times as many requests from Summit County residents to terminate the mandate than to vote to keep it in place.

“I thought it was time to move on,” Kohler wrote in a message to KPCW. “Those who wanted to wear masks can anytime they want as I do most of the time when in public settings.”

The joint resolution passed the Senate Tuesday on a party-line vote, 22 votes to five. The county's representatives, Republican Sens. John Johnson and Ron Winterton, voted for the measure, making it four of Summit County's five Statehouse representatives that voted to end the local mandate.

Once the joint resolution passed the House and was signed by leaders of the Legislature early Friday afternoon, the mask mandates in Summit County and the Salt Lake Valley were terminated.

King said people should be encouraged to wear masks, and that local health departments acted within their rights when they imposed local health orders.

“I worry that it's going to, the effect of this, if in fact it results in lower levels of mask wearing, it's going to sicken more Utahns, with a possibility of even causing death for people that really contract severe cases of COVID,” King said.

House Republicans said terminating the mask mandates did not prevent any person from wearing a mask, or any business from requiring them.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with comments from Rep. Mike Kohler.

Alexander joined KPCW in 2021 after two years reporting on Summit County for The Park Record. While there, he won many awards for covering issues ranging from school curriculum to East Side legacy agriculture operations to land-use disputes. He arrived in Utah by way of Madison, Wisconsin, and western Massachusetts, with stints living in other areas across the country and world. When not attending a public meeting or trying to figure out what a PID is, Alexander enjoys skiing, reading and watching the Celtics.