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As COVID-19 numbers in Utah continue to rise, businesses are left to make their own mask policies

Kami Ilizaliturri, right, makes a purchase from Ana Vargas at Snider Bros. Meats in Holladay on Thursday, June 25, 2020. The store currently requires all customers to wear a mask while shopping.
Kami Ilizaliturri, right, makes a purchase from Ana Vargas at Snider Bros. Meats in Holladay on Thursday, June 25, 2020. The store currently requires all customers to wear a mask while shopping.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — As the coronavirus pandemic rages on, businesses in Utah are taking the mask issue into their own hands with some creating policies requiring customers to wear masks while in their buildings.

Current state guidelines for private businesses only require employees working with the general public to wear masks. But Jake Wilson, general manager of Snider Bros. Meats, says his store requires all customers to wear a mask while shopping to protect his employees and the other customers.

“For me, I have a newborn at home, and I live with people who are all high risk. I, myself, am high risk,” Wilson said. “I’m not a doctor; I didn’t spend time, money and energy to get my doctorate. I’m definitely not a scientist, so I’m just going to operate off the best information possible.”

“I’d rather wear a mask and be wrong about the mask, than not wear a mask and pay consequences,” he said.

Wilson provides free masks to customers who don’t have them and has hand sanitizer around his store.

He says he’s had mixed reactions from the people who come in to shop, with some saying how appreciative they are of his policy while others have been outright nasty. There have been several instances of people threatening Wilson with physical violence or yelling expletives at employees because they are upset with the store’s mask policy, he said.

“If somebody doesn’t want to wear a mask, power to them. Just don’t even come in. Don’t even bother me,” Wilson said. “But if it comes to the point where I feel I need to hire off-duty police officers to come stand at my door just to have the minimum of respect for our policies as a private business, something’s really wrong; something’s clearly broken.”

He said the state should do more to help businesses because he has some business friends who are hesitant to make masks mandatory.

“I know a lot of other businesses where asking people to wear face masks is detrimental to them because it’s causing them to lose business that they absolutely need and are desperate for,” Wilson said.

“But on a personal level, yeah, I really feel that city and state officials need to be doing more than just recommending because they’ve been recommending people to wear masks for months now, and people aren’t.”

It was confirmed Thursday evening that Gov. Gary Herbert has approved requests from Salt Lake and Summit counties requiring people wear masks in public. And on Wednesday, Herbert announced an executive order requiring masks be worn in all state buildings overseen by the executive branch. This includes state offices, public universities and liquor stores.

Junior Vargas, team lead for Sweet Lake Biscuits and Limeade, said he doesn’t require customers wear a mask but he requires them for his employees.

“We are doing the best that we can so that we’re staying in guidelines and ask people to be safe, but we can only do so much as well,” Vargas said.

He said he thinks the state is doing the best it can to mandate masks, “but the same time, I don’t think people take it seriously.”

“If they push to mandate it, then I think more people would pay more attention and be more conscious,” Vargas said.

He said he’s had people see the signs in his store asking them to wear masks, and they’ve turned around and left. But he’s also had other customers thank him for having his employees mask up.

Another business owner is doing his best to balance keeping his employees and customers safe while not discouraging people from shopping in his stores. Justin Crump, owner of Uptown Cheapskate in Murray and American Fork, doesn’t require masks for customers and encourages his employees to wear masks.

“We have suggested (masks) since we reopened, but have gotten customers that have said that they won’t come in to shop if we required them,” he said. “We receive feedback weekly ... that other customers are frustrated that other shoppers are not wearing them or that my employees aren’t wearing them properly. We really are trying to do what’s best for everyone, but need the business to keep the doors open.”

Crump said he thinks mandating masks for counties hit the hardest by COVID-19 is a step in the right direction, but that it “doesn’t seem necessary where there aren’t many cases.”

He said his stores are following current state guidelines for opening safely.

Whole Foods also requires customers wear masks “to protect the health and safety of our team members and communities,” the company said in a prepared statement. The stores provide masks at entrances to any customers who don’t have them.

Leslie Seggar, owner of Tulie Bakery, said the state hasn’t taken its mask recommendations far enough.

“All the health professionals have said (wearing masks) is the right thing to be doing. I am in total support of a mandate for it, and I think (the state) should require it like California and other states have done,” Seggar said.

She voiced frustration at what she sees as the politicization of wearing masks, saying “masks are about protecting people from a virus and is not about politics.”

Seggar said mandating masks and keeping the state shut down just a little longer would have helped prevent an increase in cases like Utah is seeing now.

“It’s not about freedom. Not wearing masks is prolonging all of this, and it’s costing people’s lives,” she said.