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South Valley Journal

Latest mask mandate triggers adverse response

Feb 07, 2022 02:18PM ● By Michael J. Jewkes

Mayor Trent Staggs has been outspoken against the new county mask mandates. (Riverton City/Brook Bowen)

By Michael J. Jewkes | [email protected]

The Coronavirus case count has hit staggering highs since the start of the new year. In response, the Salt Lake County Health Department issued a countywide mask mandate. This mandate has been openly opposed by many, but few have been quicker to the trigger than Riverton mayor, Trent Staggs.

“We are all going to have to learn to live with COVID-19 and whatever variation of it comes next,” Mayor Staggs said in an official statement released in response to the mandate. Staggs has been a frontrunner in fighting mask and vaccine mandates since the virus broke out during his first term as mayor. Staggs was stern in his criticism of county measures in curbing the pandemic, saying, “The government has had two years now to solve the COVID-19 pandemic and here we are with cases raging once again.” Staggs claims that government intervention has been “largely unsuccessful.” 

This is not the first time the mayor has been openly against government provisions. Staggs released a similar statement in November 2021 following the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s mandate requiring vaccinations or regular testing for employees of all companies with 100 or more workers. Staggs maintained a strong position, saying in the official statement that he had “…no plans to implement or force” the federal mandate on city employees, disregarding the threat of heavy fines of $13,653 for noncompliant employers. The fines get steeper after the first penalty with an additional $13,653 per day for abatement. 

The OSHA mandate, while released in early November 2021, was set to go into effect two months later in January, according to the United States Department of Labor. Regardless of such heavy federal penalties, Staggs remained fearless, calling the mandate “an unconstitutional overreach by an unelected federal administrative agency.” 

Despite harsh criticism of the safety measures, the mayor has been largely silent on possible solutions, offering one sentence worth of an idea as to better management in his most recent statement saying, “Allowing individuals and families to make personal health decisions for themselves is the best course of action...” 

Despite personal health decisions and government mandates, cases continue to surge. Recent data from coronavirus.utah.gov shows that in January, Utah hit record breaking days of more than 13,000 cases, as well as a 5.3 deaths per day average. Total cases have soared past 700,000, while total death numbers are dangerously close to reaching 4,000.

The hard stance on mask mandates has been largely supported by residents of Riverton. Not all, however, agree with it. Melanie Gonzalez, a former resident of Riverton, has long been a supporter of Mayor Staggs. Gonzalez has always been impressed by Staggs’ character, which led her to vote for him for county mayor in 2020; however, after reading his response to the mask mandate, she says, “I was sad to see him put out that statement.” 

Gonzalez has struggled with wearing masks since the dawn of the pandemic in 2020. “I hate wearing masks,[but] I feel like it’s the only way that we can ensure that we’re taking care of our neighbor," she said. 

The intense debate on both sides of the argument has left Gonzalez feeling concerned and worried, primarily for the safety of her family. She concluded, “Not looking out for the compromise in our community, is putting politics before people.” 

This position and fearless attitude have contributed greatly to Staggs’ overwhelming support from the people of Riverton since taking office in January 2018. Staggs is coming off a breezy reelection campaign in which he ran unopposed for a second term as mayor. 

Many mayors across Salt Lake County have publicly called on the county council to reverse the mandate, leading to an emergency council meeting held by the Salt Lake County Council which upheld the mandates by a narrow vote of 5-4. The legislature then overturned the county’s mask mandate later in January.