Dear Gov. Cox:
You said in a TV interview this weekend that you don’t know whether the Legislature’s decision to end the statewide mask mandate on April 10 is too early or too late. That’s too early, and I urge you to veto House Bill 294, which would, in effect, declare the most serious aspects of the pandemic over on that date regardless of whether doing so is justified by the facts.
We are incredibly close, closer than anyone would have dreamed possible last summer, to keeping the levels of covid-19 transmission to manageable levels. By removing one of the most effective tools we have (other than vaccination) to contain the virus, HB294 opens up the possibility of an unnecessary surge in coronavirus transmission.
I’m not suggesting that there isn’t a place for lifting restrictions soon. In fact, I think your administration’s own proposals only a week or so ago before the legislative action were reasonable, even though I may differ on details. Your proposal then was that, barring unforeseen circumstances, we could see a lifting of many restrictions two months after Utah was allocated enough vaccine doses for the adult population, providing that transmission levels were down (which they probably would be).
But it’s clear that by lifting the mask mandate on April 10, our most effective non-vaccine tool would not be used while hundreds of thousands of Utahns are awaiting vaccination. We would be creating unnecessary risk not only for our most vulnerable residents who have yet to schedule a vaccine, but also for teens and young and middle-aged adults who didn’t become eligible in time.
My proposal is simple: Let’s give all Utahns the opportunity to get vaccinated and then start lifting the restrictions when the vaccinations become effective about two weeks later, assuming that the rate of transmission falls to low levels by then.
The main problem with HB294 is that is strangely assumes that the risk posed by the coronavirus can somehow end by legislative fiat. Obviously, that’s not the case. Instead, there’s every reason to believe that Utahns can begin resuming close-to-normal lives this summer, provided we give time for the vaccines coupled with existing rules to do their work.
Another problem with HB294 is that it gives top priority to ending the least expensive restriction that we have. The mask mandate costs our economy nearly nothing, yet it would be terminated before the more expensive approaches such as business restrictions (which, ironically, would be come less effective without masks in universal use). And while I’m optimistic that the virus will be sufficiently contained in a few months, I am also concerned that HB294 contains no provision to reinstate the mandate if our predictions about slowing the viral spread are wrong.
Thanks in part to the actions of you and your predecessor, such as requiring masks in schools and limiting the size of public gatherings, Utah is in a good position to fully open up its economy and bring back some semblance of normalcy in short order. Please veto HB294, and don’t allow the Legislature’s misguided actions to short-circuit the scientifically validated measures we have in place.
Photo of masks by Bára Buri via Unsplash.