LOGAN – Whether you love or hate Logan Mayor Holly Daines’ proposed mask mandate probably depends on your political views.
That’s the opinion of local Democratic patriarch Herm Olsen, who considers the idea of a mask mandate “… kind of a necessary evil.”
“I don’t much like (face masks),” Olsen explains. “I find them irritating and confining. I feel the same way about seatbelts and helmets … (But) the evidence seems pretty clear that communities which practice both social distancing and masking have a much lower rate of COVID-19 …”
Notably absent from the list of supporters for Logan Mayor Holly Daines’ proposed municipal mask mandate are the members of the Cache County Council.
After being publicly castigated for their request to take the county to a Green/Normal coronavirus threat level in June, the members of the county council are still unrepentant on the subject of mandatory face coverings.
Despite being previously singled out for vituperative criticism over that request for a threat level reduction, county council members Gina Worthen and Gordon Zilles expressed confidence that local residents could be trusted to use appropriate common sense when deciding when and where masks are needed.
Supporters of the mayor’s July 23 request to Gov. Gary Herbert for authorization to impose a city-wide mask mandate are quick to cite “science” and so-called “pandemic experts.”
But, like Olsen, Logan City Council member Jess Bradfield recognizes that the controversy over the proposed mask mandate is a political issue, not a public health debate.
Although Bradfield says that he is “personally okay with a mask mandate,” he was the only city council member to voice concerns about Daines’ proposal when it was initially discussed July 21.
In an open letter to local residents, Bradfield wrote “ … the most basic and important right of a citizen is due process. The current (mask mandate) proposal was not publicly noticed and council members were not notified of the request prior to the (July 21) meeting. Discussing laws and ordinances without allowing all residents the opportunity to have a voice in a public forum does not demonstrate a standard that residents deserve.”
The mask mandate issue is politically charged at the state level as well, since Herbert also recognizes that this is a political debate. The governor has been quick to approve requests from local officials to impose mask mandates in Salt Lake and Summit counties, but has politely declined to issue similar executive orders that would apply statewide.
In the face of a continuing upward trend in COVID-19 cases, one likely reason for that reluctance is the potential impact that a statewide mask mandate would have on the mostly conservative base of his political protégé, gubernatorial candidate Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox.
Cox’ Democratic rival, University of Utah professor Chris Peterson, has publicly demanded a statewide mask mandate. That challenge will make a statewide mask mandate a bitter pill if Herbert has to eventually make that political concession.
A statewide mask mandate will be particularly infuriating to conservative Utahns, some of whom regard the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic as a violation of their constitutional rights on one hand and a surrender of legal authority to un-elected public health officials on the other.
While more liberally-inclined Utahns are far more likely to positively react to what they tend to regard as common sense coronavirus precautions, the motivation for Democrats to advocate for a statewide mask mandate isn’t entirely altruistic. The imposition of that mandate would also be seen an admission that GOP-led efforts to respond to the coronavirus pandemic had failed, a valuable political tool in the upcoming gubernatorial campaign.
“I think it comes down to whether we trust local medical experts or the conspiracy-theorists,” Olsen says. “Many religious leaders have also asked us to wear masks in public … If nothing else, it is a mark of courtesy and respect for others …”
The state’s Coronavirus Task Force is expected to consider Daines’ request for a local mask-mandate at its regular weekly meeting on Tuesday.