Utah County Commissioner Bill Lee is no longer requesting that the Utah County Health Department ask Gov. Gary Herbert to grant the county some exemptions to the statewide public K-12 school mask mandate, but said he is planning a town hall to facilitate dialogue on masks in schools.

On July 15, the commission was set to consider a letter written by Lee addressed to Utah County Health Department Executive Director Ralph Clegg asking that he request Herbert give the county “compassionate exemption from the one-size-fits-all mask mandate in Utah County’s public schools” after the commission “received an overwhelming amount of correspondence from parents concerned about the state’s recent mandate requiring everyone who enters a public K-12 school to wear a mask at all times.”

The meeting, which was packed with approximately 100 residents who weren’t wearing masks or keeping a 6-foot distance, lasted just over a minute and was postponed due to public health concerns.

Though the letter was placed on Wednesday’s public meeting agenda for discussion, Lee said he pulled the item since a state public health order issued on July 17 “basically clarified every single thing that I was asking for on that letter, with exemptions and everything in it.”

The Utah Health Department public health order, made effective until Dec. 31, mandates masks be worn by teachers, students and faculty in public school buildings and on buses, but clarifies a number of exemptions, including for children under 3 and individuals “with a medical condition, mental health condition, or disability that prevents wearing a face covering, including an individual for whom wearing a face covering could cause harm or dangerously obstruct breathing, or who is unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove a face covering without assistance.”

Other exemptions include for students maintaining a 6-foot distance, students eating and drinking while indoors and social distancing and deaf individuals “where the ability to see the mouth is essential for communication, in which case a face shield or alternative protection such as a plexiglass barrier should be used,” according to the health order.

“And so because the state health department health order came out and talked about everything that I was talking about in that letter, there is no need to put it on there and send a letter asking for something to be done that has already been done,” Lee told a group opposed to the mask mandate ahead of Wednesday’s meeting.

Lee said that the three commissioners had agreed to hold a “big town hall meeting” at the Utah Valley Convention Center on Tuesday with county superintendents and residents “to have more dialogue and more conversation” on masks in schools, but the meeting never took place since “we started getting some mixed reactions from the superintendents.”

“And so that meeting fell apart, unfortunately,” Lee said. “Because I think that would have given us an opportunity to at least have conversation and have more dialogue on what’s going on. So that was attempted (and), unfortunately, didn’t happen.”

In an interview after Wednesday’s meeting, Lee said he was tentatively planning on holding a town hall at the Utah Valley Convention Center on Aug. 5 for residents who “for whatever reason have questions or thoughts or comments (about masks in schools) they would like to express to some of their representatives.”

“It’s not an anti-mask town hall by any stretch,” he said. “If anything, it’s more of a listening town hall. We did kind of tell them (residents opposed to masks) that we would listen to them and hold the meeting, and that was my attempt for yesterday. And that didn’t happen. So they’re still asking for more opportunity to talk to their representatives, and that’s what I’m trying to afford.”

As for his fellow commissioners, Lee said that Nathan Ivie agreed to attend the tentative town hall while Tanner Ainge didn’t. When asked if superintendents would be participating, he said he would “send them an invitation.”

Connor Richards covers government, the environment and south Utah County for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at crichards@heraldextra.com and 801-344-2599.

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