SALT LAKE CITY — Even before Salt Lake County decided to mandate masks inside businesses, Harmons grocery store officials were contemplating requiring masks to shop at their stories.

“We’ve been encouraging it all along,” said Lindee Nance, vice president of marketing for Harmons. “What we were sort of seeing is when the state went to yellow, people were kind of ready to move on. There was a decline in the number of customers who were wearing masks.

“And at the end of the day, our mission statement is to value our associates and to exceed our customers’ expectations. So we were constantly asking ourselves, ‘Are we doing everything we can to keep our associates safe?’”

The answer was maybe not. So they looked at whether they should or could require masks, which all of the Utah-based stores give to customers upon request. Just as they were making that decision, Salt Lake County and Summit County officials asked Gov. Gary Herbert for permission to mandate masks in all businesses and public places. So the store made the move official when the two counties did on Saturday.

Almost immediately a few challenged the rule, including a man who posted a video complaining that he was denied entry, despite telling them he couldn’t wear a mask because he suffers with post-traumatic stress disorder. While that man wasn’t allowed to shop because he refused to wear a mask, Nance said they’ve been trying to let associates know that they will follow Salt Lake County’s order, which says that if a person “cannot psychologically or medically tolerate wearing a mask” an exception can be made.

“That customer had that experience Saturday morning, and we’ve been working throughout the weekend to get everybody on the same page about how to handle the policy,” Nance said. “We’ve had a lot of questions, mostly about, ‘If I have this medical condition, am I going to be allowed entry?’ Most people are pretty aware we’re just trying to do the right thing.”

She said that if customers have a medical condition that makes wearing a mask impossible, their associates will “not be the ones to verify or validate if they qualify. We’re letting people decide for themselves because every situation is different. What we’re trying to accomplish is getting as many of our customers wearing masks as possible. We’re not trying to be the judge of what qualifies as a medical exemption.”

Unified police detective Kevin Mallory confirmed there were two incidents Saturday in which police were called to deal with a Harmons customer refusing to wear a mask or leave — one in Taylorsville and one in West Jordan.

One involved the man asking for an exemption due to a medical condition, while the other just declined to wear a mask. The man who just didn’t want to wear a mask left the store before police arrived and no report was generated.

The other man pointed out that the county’s policy exempted those with legitimate medical conditions, and he said in his video that he plans to sue Harmons for discrimination. There was a report generated in that case.

Mallory said he wasn’t aware of other complaints, and the officers were advised to educate and defuse situations, regardless of who called authorities.

On Friday, police were planning how they might avoid creating new issues as they support business owners in enforcing the mandatory mask policy.

“We’re handling this the same way we did the public health orders,” said Unified Police Lt. Melody Gray. “We educate for voluntary compliances.”

The delicacy with which business owners and government officials are trying to approach the mask issue underscores how something that public health officials believe will reduce the spread has become a divisive political issue.

Christina Judd, Salt Lake police director of public relations, said they’re going to try to defuse problems if police are called to help with mask problems.

“We believe it’s in everyone’s best interest to be masked up,” she said. “It’s been mandatory for us for a couple of weeks. But our stance is to educate the public and ask for voluntary compliance.”

Park City Police Capt. Phil Kirk said his department received less than half a dozen calls after Summit County issued a mandatory mask order on Friday.

“We’ve had a few calls about it,” Kirk said. “We’re just encouraging officers to use good discretion in trying to get people to comply without confrontations.”

He said some of the calls have been questions from business owners, but others were members of the public reporting folks not wearing masks to police. Others wonder if they have to wear masks at family gatherings or sporting events.

“We’re taking a prevention kind of approach,” he said of the department’s advice to businesses, advising that they post signs about the new mandate and try to educate their customers. “We don’t want to get into battles over it. ... and we certainly don’t have the staffing levels to be able to respond to every (mask) call.”

Park City police have been handing out free masks on Main Street every Sunday, something a number of businesses are doing to try and make compliance easier.

The issue isn’t going to be resolved anytime soon as 564 new confirmed COVID-19 cases were reported Monday. There was also an additional death reported — a man between the ages of 65 and 84 from Davis County who was hospitalized at the time of his death.

Of the 21 new hospitalizations reported Monday, 10 of those are in Salt Lake County, while four are in Davis County. Two of those hospitalizations are listed in central Utah.

In all, 168 Utahns have died from COVID-19 or related complications. Of the state’s 21,664 confirmed cases, 12,205 are considered recovered after passing three weeks since being diagnosed.

In the past seven days there have been 3,758 new positive cases reported — an average of 537 per day. Lab tests performed have increased by 34,593 over the same time frame, for a seven-day positivity rate of 10.9%.

In Oregon, concerns about racial profiling and “over policing” forced Lincoln County officials to include “People of color who have heightened concerns about racial profiling and harassment due to wearing face coverings in public” in their exemptions. Like Salt Lake and Summit counties’ orders, there are exemptions for people with health or medical conditions that “preclude or are exacerbated by wearing a face covering.”

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But despite having nearly daily protests about criminal justice reform and policing issues, local advocates for some of those communities disproportionately impacted welcomed the mandate.

“It’s not a concern here,” Salt Lake NAACP branch president Jeanetta Williams said of “over policing” fears, like those expressed in Oregon. “I think it’s a good idea that everybody wear a mask. ... They really have to do something. I don’t have a problem with the mandate. ... We need to do everything we can to keep other folks from getting sick.”

State Sen. Luz Escamilla, who has helped address many of the issues that led to problems from communication to testing issues, said she’s been working with law enforcement on some reform issues, but she sees this mandate as necessary for public good.

“I really do agree that everybody should wear a mask,” said Escamilla, who has recovered from COVID-19. “People are trying to do what they can to keep other people from getting sick.”

The latest breakdown of Utah cases, hospitalizations and deaths by health district:

  • Salt Lake County, 10,887; 780 hospitalized; 106 deaths.
  • Utah County, 3,965; 201 hospitalized; 22 deaths.
  • Bear River (Box Elder, Cache, Rich), 1,504; 51 hospitalized; 2 deaths.
  • Southwest Utah, 1,467; 94 hospitalized; 10 deaths.
  • Davis County, 1,155; 80 hospitalized; 5 deaths.
  • Weber-Morgan, 919; 67 hospitalized; 12 deaths.
  • Summit County, 485; 46 hospitalized; 0 deaths.
  • San Juan County, 400; 51 hospitalized; 8 deaths.
  • Wasatch County, 406; 20 hospitalized; 3 deaths.
  • Tooele County, 234; 12 hospitalized; 0 deaths.
  • Central Utah, 159; 11 hospitalized; 0 deaths.
  • TriCounty (Uinta Basin), 48; 3 hospitalized; 0 deaths.
  • Southeast Utah, 35; 1 hospitalized; 0 deaths.
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