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Crowded meeting with few masks ‘foolish,’ Utah governor says

Associated Press

Salt Lake City – People crowding into a public meeting in Utah to push for an exception to mask requirements in schools was rather “foolish” and reflects an “almost mob mentality,” Republican Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday.

Herbert spoke the day after local officials in Utah County abruptly canceled the meeting because the crowd did not follow social-distancing guidelines meant to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Angry residents react when the Utah County Commission meeting was adjourned before it even started, Wednesday, July 15, 2020, in Provo, Utah. The group protesting against face masks being required in schools removed the social distancing tape on the chairs and filled the Utah County Commission room to over flowing.

The county commissioners had planned to vote on whether or not to ask for a partial exemption from Herbert’s statewide mask mandate for schools. Attendees in Provo, south of Salt Lake City, booed after the commissioners opted to push the vote to a later date because of health concerns. Video footage showed the meeting was packed with people who opposed the mandate, very few of whom were wearing masks.

Commissioner Bill Lee speaks during a rally protesting against face masks being required in schools, before the Utah County Commission meeting in Provo, Utah, on Wednesday, July 15, 2020.

Masks can prevent the spread of the disease by catching respiratory droplets that contain the virus when people exhale or cough. Health experts say they are a key tool in allowing the resumption of economic activity and schools. Critics argue mask mandates overstep government power.

“I think the experts will tell us that’s kind of a foolish action,” Herbert said. “People get caught up in almost a mob mentality … there’s a better way to dialog with leadership.”

Protesters listen as commissioner Bill Lee speaks during a rally protesting against face masks being required in schools, before the Utah County Commission meeting in Provo, Utah, on Wednesday, July 15, 2020.

The proposal from Utah County Commissioner Bill Lee would have the county health director ask state officials for a “compassionate exemption” from the mandate Herbert issued last week.

Commissioners Tanner Ainge and Nathan Ivie voted in favor of postponing the meeting. Lee voted against it.