On April 30, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert issued orders that require all employees of Utah businesses to wear masks. This order goes further than the locally drafted public health order that had been scheduled to go into effect, which only required businesses considered “high-risk” to have facial coverings.

“We had toyed with the idea of requiring facial coverings for everyone,” said Southeast Utah Health Department Environmental Director Orion Rogers, “and we still want everyone to wear masks, but it’s only businesses that this applies to.”

“This is so we can get open,” Rogers said in a call with the Moab Sun News, “facial coverings are just the next tool we have.”

Soft approach to local businesses

As expected, Herbert’s executive order formally moved the state of Utah to the “moderate risk” category as defined by the “Utah Leads Together 2.0” plan. While residents are still “encouraged to stay home as much as possible,” this category allows some businesses to reopen with new safety measures in place.

In a separate executive order, Gov. Herbert changed one aspect of the plan: any place in the document that mentioned mask-wearing for employees should be considered an “order” and not a recommendation.

“My understanding of the Governor’s order is that any employee that is not able to distance from the customer or other employees is required to wear a facial covering,” said Rogers.

“We’ve had a lot of questions,” said Rogers. “We’ve also received some complaints.”

The health department is taking a soft approach to ensuring businesses are in compliance.

Rogers said he has been personally going to businesses in Moab to inform each of the Governor’s order.

“We sent out mass emails to all businesses we normally work with letting them know about the order, which would include convenience stores and gas stations,” said Rogers.

For other businesses, Rogers said, the department will respond to any complaints of employees not wearing masks by offering the business a copy of the order.

“I just give it to the people there and say ‘hey, here’s some rules,’” he said.

“If we receive a complaint, we’ll look into that and potentially go visit with that business,” said Rogers, who added that although the mask requirement is a statewide ordinance he believes it “needs to be more of a partnership than a regulatory mandate.”

“It is a mandate, but that’s not how I like doing things in my community if I don’t have to,” he said.

For answers to questions we’ve heard from readers, see “Five questions about statewide mask requirements” in this edition.

Gov. approves local restrictions on motels, hotels

The revised public health order for Grand County went into effect on May 1, allowing some businesses considered high-risk to public health to reopen with safety precautions.

While the draft released by the Southeast Utah Health Department proved to be looser on mask-wearing requirements than the Governor’s policy, the Moab-area order has more restrictions on overnight accomodations like hotels, motels and AirBnBs.

The Utah State Legislature recently passed SB3004, a bill that created a commission to advise Gov. Herbert on how to respond to COVID-19 with an eye on the state’s economy.

The bill has been a point of concern in Moab and other areas with strong public health orders, as under the new law, local public health ordinances would be barred from being more restrictive than state ordinances, unless the governor specifically allows an exception.

“[Gov. Gary Herbert] has reviewed and approved our amended order,” said Grand County Attorney Christina Sloan in an email.

The official SEUHD order requires that larger hotels and motels are restricted to renting a portion of their total capacity. Vacated rooms must be left empty for a 24-hour period prior to cleaning. Campground and RV site occupancy must be limited to 50% of total spots and dispersed camping remains banned for nonresidents of Grand County.

“The Local Health Officer finds that a need for specially tailored restrictions and prohibitions remains with respect to Grand County,” the SEUHD order says.

Guidance for all other businesses, including restaurants, falls in line with state-level guidance for easing restrictions in Governor Gary Herbert’s “Utah Leads Forward 2.0” plan, with Sloan noting that “only the lodging plan is more restrictive."

Five questions on the statewide mask requirements

After the release of Utah Governor Gary Herbert’s requirements that all businesses must have employees wear a covering over their mouth and nose, the Moab Sun News received a flood of questions from local businesses and our readers.

Southeast Utah Health Department Public Information Officer Brittney Garff and Grand County Attorney Christina Sloan helped clarify what this means for Moab businesses, based on their contact with the newly-formed Utah Public Health and Economic Emergency Commission and the Governor's Office.

Who has to wear a mask at work?

According to the order, anyone who is working with customers or with other employees is required to wear a protective facial covering, even if they are behind a counter or plexiglass. All restaurant employees must wear a facial covering.

“The only further clarification I have is that construction workers do not need to wear masks except when they are working within 6 feet of each other, on break and congregating, and during inspections,” said Sloan in an email with the Moab Sun News.

The Governor’s order requires that businesses provide masks for employees. In the order, it is clearly written that if an employer can’t provide masks, they cannot open for business.

Is everyone required to wear a mask now?

No. While it is strongly recommended that people wear protective face coverings, you are not required to wear a mask when out and about. However, businesses can require their customers to wear masks if that's the store policy.

You also might be required to wear a mask at some businesses considered higher-risk for disease transmission, like a salon or tattoo parlor.

“For personal services like salons the guidance is: Both service provider and client wear face coverings,” said SEUHD Public Information Officer Brittney Garff. “This is very important since social distancing is not possible.”

What kind of mask do I need?

“To date, the Governor's office has provided no information on what type of face covering is sufficient,” said Grand County Attorney Christina Sloan in an email with the Moab Sun News.

“SEUHD considers any face covering that covers your mouth and nose sufficient. Masks are preferred [but] bandana-style coverings are sufficient,” she said.

What if a business has employees who work with the public who aren't wearing masks?

Some businesses may simply not be aware of the new requirements. Garff said that the health department was doing “further outreach with businesses,” and SEUHD environmental director Orion Rogers said that he was personally going to local businesses to let them know about the requirement. Rogers told the Moab Sun News that if a business was not in compliance, he preferred to work with it as part of a “partnership.” However, Sloan noted that ultimately the “Executive Order is an order, and it is enforceable by the Grand County Sheriff's Office and Attorney's Office.”

How do I get a mask?

The health department said that local officials considered any cloth that covers the nose and mouth to meet the requirements, including a bandanna tied around the face. Cloth masks are becoming available in the area through entrepreneurial residents: Canyonland Quilts and Gallery Moab are both local sources in addition to many local folks easily found on social media.

The state of Utah has also committed to providing masks to the state's households free of charge through “A Mask for Every Utahn” as well as the state’s businesses with the “PPE Push Pack,” which provides a free, one-week supply of masks, hand sanitizer, and other items for businesses with fewer than 50 employees.

However, it’s important to note that experts say that wearing a facial mask is not a perfect solution to preventing the spread of COVID-19. Public health experts and scientists all stress that continuing to respect a six-foot distance in public, regular hand washing and other techniques are equally, if not more, important to prevent the spread of illness.