Grand County Attorney Christina Sloan said during a county council meeting Tuesday, May 19 that businesses are legally permitted to require customers wear masks — akin to businesses requiring shirts and shoes — but that the county will likely not pass a general mask requirement anytime soon due to pressure from state officials.
Sloan said that businesses have latitude to selectively restrict access from patrons or potential patrons when issues of “public safety” are at question, and the use of masks amid a pandemic presents such a question.
“Private business has wide latitude to restrict access to patrons, the public, and customers if there is a public safety issue,” Sloan said. “Here there clearly is, so private businesses absolutely can require masks, and they can restrict access to the public if customers don’t use masks.”
Sloan went on to say that the Grand County Council could try to pass a health order requiring the public to wear masks in certain circumstances, but the office of Gov. Gary Herbert, which has stepped in to dictate the statewide response alongside a commission created by the Utah Legislature, signaled to the county that it did not want municipalities passing masking requirements.
“Currently, the governor’s office has not been supportive of that, a local order with a mask requirement, which we proposed in … draft form to the governor maybe a month ago, and he rejected that,” Sloan said.
Sloan said that if the council wanted to try again to pass such a mask requirement, that was an option. Otherwise, she recommended leaving it up to private businesses to decide whether customers wear masks.
A spokesperson from the governor’s office, Anna Lehnardt, said Wednesday that the governor was encouraging people to wear masks but that there was no statewide requirement to do so.
“Governor Herbert encourages Utahns to wear masks whenever they are in public spaces,” Lehnardt said. “While there is no statewide requirement to wear masks, certain businesses are required to do so, and we also respect the decision of businesses who require both employees and patrons to wear masks. These are prudent measures that will help slow the spread of COVID-19 in our communities.”