End in sight as state sets goal for eventual mask removal

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Despite a significant drop in COVID-19 cases throughout the state, on Utah has renewed the state-wide mask mandate first issued in November of 2020. 

Although masks must still be worn, there is a reason to be optimistic for the future; while the state renewed the mask mandate this week, they also issued the necessary requirements to remove the mask mandate.

According to the state public health order issued by the executive director of the Utah Health Department, Richard Saunders, there are a few things that must happen in order to justify the removal of the mask mandate. First, the state must be allocated 1,633,000 first doses of COVID-19 vaccines, a significant increase from the mere 444,905 doses that the state has already received. Once this target number is reached, an eight week period must pass. Then, and only then, will the mask mandate be lifted for counties designated as having low transmission levels of the virus. 

As a reminder, transmission levels are designated by the Utah Department of Health. More information on the designation of transmission levels and what each level means can be found on page four of the state public health order. At this time, only five counties including Daggett, Garfield, Piute, Rich and Wayne, meet the criteria for low transmission areas. 

Utah County remains in the high transmission category, meaning that unless the county can reach low transmission after the other criteria are met, residents will still be required to wear masks for the foreseeable future. Regardless of where the county is now, it appears that the mask-wearing era has an end in sight. 

“I like the idea that as long as the transmission rate is consistently below a certain percentage and if our vaccinations reach a certain level, masks will go away,” said Jacob Scoresby, a Lehi resident and junior information systems student at UVU.

While the goal of an eventual removal of the mask mandate is a worthy objective to reach for, it’s important to remember why the state has asked citizens to wear them in the first place. 

“I think the guidelines set by the health department are reasonable and easy to follow, especially since we’re only months away from vaccinations being open to the general public,” said Jordon Jones, a Vineyard resident and junior computer science student at UVU. “I lost a loved one just two months ago from COVID-19, so I understand the importance of taking precautions seriously, and I hope most people will continue to follow the direction so more lives won’t be lost.” 

The renewed guidelines were signed into effect by Saunders on Monday, Feb. 22, and will stay in effect until March 25, though in all likelihood, barring some miracle, the mask mandate will be extended past that date.