Washington County officials, mayors sign proclamation ‘strongly encouraging’ public to wear masks

ST. GEORGE — Members of the Washington County Commission and area mayors released a joint statement Wednesday endorsing the use of face coverings in public to help curb the spread of COVID-19.

An Aug. 5, 2020 joint-proclamation of Washington County Commissioners and area mayors encouraging the public to wear face coverings during the COVID-19 pandemic. | File courtesy of the city of St. George, St. George News | Click to enlarge

“We, the mayors of cities and towns in Washington County, in collaboration with local physicians and the Washington County Commission, proclaim our endorsement and encourage face coverings to be worn in all indoor public spaces and outdoors when physical distancing cannot be maintained,” the proclamation states.

It goes on to encourage businesses in the county to also support face coverings being worn in their establishments.

Some business and grocery store chains like Harmons and Smiths have already mandated masks be worn within their stores.

The proclamation follows calls made by Gov. Gary Herbert since June asking Utahns to wear face masks in public. Face masks have since been mandated in all state-run facilities and public schools.

Faith leaders in the state have also backed wearing masks, comparing it to the Biblical principle of “loving thy neighbor” by not spreading the virus. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has also asked its Utah-based members to comply with wearing face masks.

The proclamation goes on to state that face coverings, combined with social distancing and hygienic practices, helps slow the spread of COVID-19. It also states that the virus can spread easily indoors and that people who may be infected may not experience any symptoms but remain a threat of spreading the virus.

An organist follows local COVID-19 public health guidelines by playing the organ with a face mask during a Latter-day Saint Sunday worship service, location and date unspecified. | Photo courtesy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, St. George News

“Despite earlier confusion and news reports to the contrary, the science now shows that wearing face coverings over the mouth and nose may decrease transmission of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19,” the resolution states.

The resolution can be read in its entirety here.

Though wearing face masks is strongly encouraged, neither the county or municipalities within it – with the exception of Springdale – having mandated it.

“I think we should all mask-up,” Washington County Commissioner Dean Cox said Wednesday.

He added the county does not have the authority to issue a mask-mandate, which requires a request to the Governor’s Office for approval. Even then, the county could only enact a mandate for the unincorporated parts of the county where there hasn’t been much of an issue with the virus, he said.

It’s the mayors that “carry the big sticks” of enforcement within their jurisdictions, yet would still have to appeal to the Governor’s Office to do that, Cox said.

Cox and fellow commissioner Gil Almquist signed the resolution as an overall show of support for wearing face masks within Washington County, Cox said.

A sign inside the Harmons grocery store in St. George asking customers to wear face masks, St. George, Utah, June 26, 2020 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Absent from the signatures was Commissioner Victor Iverson, who previously told St. George News he would “never wear a mask,” yet stated he observes the practices of social distancing and washing his hands regularly.

“We have a diversity of thought (on the commission) on how to go about (the mask issue),” Cox said.

Ten area mayors also signed the proclamation, including Mayors Jon Pike of St. George, Ken Neilson of Washington City and Stan Smith of Springdale.

“My initial feeling is we mayors should support each other in these joint resolutions we do,” Neilson said, adding he was not a fan of wearing face masks, yet nonetheless said they appeared to be helping to reduce new COVID-19 case numbers.

The joint-resolution is meant to act as a way to spread awareness and encouragement of wearing face coverings, and not a mandate, Neilson said.

“We’ve been asked to wear masks. Not everywhere, but we’ve been asked,” he said.

Due to its status as the gateway to Zion National Park, Smith said a mask mandate was enacted in Springdale because it is where masses of people from outside Washington County pass through to visit the park. However, he added the mandate has “no teeth.” There are no fines or threats of jail time attached, Smith said.

St. George Mayor Jon Pike tries on a Dixie State mask during a Facebook video urging residents to #maskupstg. | Facebook screenshot, St. George News

Rather, the mandate is seen as a strong reminder to Springdale’s residents and visitors to wear face coverings when in public.

“As we look at the results, we’re seeing masks are definitely helping out,” Smith said. “People have been very good about wearing masks here.”

As for the idea of enacting a countywide mandate, Smith said there were strong feelings on both sides concerning face masks, and a mandate would likely only serve to make the anti-mask crowd more set in their attitudes on the matter and refuse to observe it.

On the other hand, providing a strong recommendation instead may eventually convince some anti-maskers to rethink their position, he said.

“I don’t necessarily enjoy wearing a mask,” Smith said, “but I’m going to do what I can to make this virus go away – within reason.”

Pike said some people would likely bristle at the idea of a government-issued mandate, while others will bristle at the joint-resolution. Either way, he said the members of the County Commission and area mayors who signed the resolution felt a mandate wouldn’t be in the county’s best interests.

“We don’t feel we can ease up on the precautions,” Pike said, referring to mask-wearing and social distancing, “but we think we know our communities and a strong encouragement will work better than a government mandate.”

Others who signed the joint-resolutions include Mayors John Bramall of Hurricane, Chris Hart of Ivins, Richard Hirschi of LaVerkin, Wayne Peterson of Leeds, Lynn Chamberlain of Toquerville, Rick Rosenburg of Santa Clara and Pam Leach of Rockville.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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