SALT LAKE CITY – Recent polling data seems to refute state experts’ estimates of Utahns’ willingness to wear face coverings in public.
“Our data shows that about 80 percent of Utah adults wear masks ‘always or usually’ when they are in public places,” according to state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn, in a recently issued press statement. “This is encouraging and tells us that mask wearing is becoming more of a social norm.”
But a survey by the Hinckley Institute of Politics for the Deseret News found that, despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, 41 percent of Utahns “feel comfortable” going about in public without face masks.
That opinion was certainly in evidence Aug. 6 to 8 during the Cache County Fair & Rodeo, when a significant number of people attending those events did so without wearing masks, despite a Logan City mask mandate imposed on Aug. 1.
The same was true at the Raspberry Days celebration in Rich County over the weekend.
Public health officials have been quick to claim that the imposition of mask mandates in Salt Lake City as well as Grand, Salt Lake and Summit counties during July contributed to Utah’s recent decline in COVID-19 cases.
Mask advocates like Salt Lake County Major Jenny Wilson even say that mask-wearing should remain part of Utah’s culture until a COVID-19 vaccine is available sometime in 2021.
While Gov. Gary Herbert is still reluctant to impose a statewide mask mandate, he has now authorized local officials to enact such policies without seeking his permission to do so.
“The governor will continue to reiterate the importance of mask-wearing until the virus is well under control, which will likely not be until a large number of Utahns have been vaccinated against the coronavirus,” according to Herbert’s communication director Anna Lehndart.
But Dr. Dunn is cautious about saying how long it will be necessary for Utahns to continue wearing face coverings, declining to make any prediction.
In the absence of such guidance, many state residents are apparently making up their own minds about that question.
In the recent survey by pollster Scott Rasmussen, nearly 40 percent of respondents said it would it take from to one month to more than six months before they would feel confident in public without a face covering.
Specifically, 4 percent of survey respondents predicted they would feel comfortable without a mask in a month or so, 6 percent predicted two to three months, 10 percent said three to six months and 19 percent said it would take longer than six months.
An additional 15 percent of residents surveyed could not estimate when they would again feel confident in public without a face covering.
The remaining 5 percent of respondents said they would never be comfortable in public without a face mask again.
The Hinckley Institute polled 1,000 registered voters between July 27 and Aug. 1. The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percent.