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Mask or no mask? New poll shows how split Utahns are over face coverings

Republicans much more comfortable without them than Democrats

Pedestrians — both unmasked and masked — walk in downtown Salt Lake City on Wednesday, June 3, 2020.
Pedestrians — both unmasked and masked — walk in downtown Salt Lake City on Wednesday, June 3, 2020.
Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Signs at the front and rear entrances at Home Again in Sugar House read: “For the safety of our employees and customers, we ask you please wear a mask.”

Owner Emily Moore posted the signs in her consignment store when it reopened in late May after being closed for six weeks due to the coronavirus outbreak.

“The majority of people are super understanding and gracious about it,” she said. “Then there are a handful who I would say are belligerent, who are angry about it.”

Wearing or not wearing a face covering is one of the more polarizing public health issues to arise during COVID-19 pandemic.

Some people won’t leave the house without one, while others will never put one on under any circumstance. Some businesses require employees and customers to wear them, others don’t. Government has required mask-wearing in certain settings. Gov. Gary Herbert has strongly encouraged Utahns to wear face coverings in public.

Micah Goldstein, 18, left, and his sister, Liana Pruyn Goldstein, 17, wear masks in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, June 3, 2020. Liana believes that people making the choice not to wear a mask is selfish. She worries that asymptomatic people could unknowingly be passing on the virus. Micah hopes he can limit the spread and save just a few lives by wearing a mask.
Micah Goldstein, 18, left, and his sister, Liana Pruyn Goldstein, 17, wear masks in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, June 3, 2020. Liana believes that people making the choice not to wear a mask is selfish. She worries that asymptomatic people could unknowingly be passing on the virus. Micah hopes he can limit the spread and save just a few lives by wearing a mask.
Laura Seitz, Deseret News

A new Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics survey asked Utahns how long it would be before they would be comfortable going out in public without wearing a mask.

The poll found 42% are already comfortable without a face covering. Another 10% say it would take a month or so, 12% two to three months, 10% say three to six months, 12% say more than six months before they would be at ease without one, and 4% say never.

Those under age 55 feel better about going unmasked as opposed to those 55 and older, the survey shows. And the political divide is evident as 51% of those who identify themselves as Republicans say they are comfortable without one, while only 36% of Democrats feel that way.

“I’m not comfortable yet. I wear a mask everywhere I go. My whole family does,” Moore said.

The survey also showed a majority of Utahns agree that businesses should he allowed to decide whether customers wear masks and that state and local governments have the legal authority to require people to wear them in public.

Scott Rasmussen conducted the poll of 1,000 Utah registered voters from May 25-31. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

Wallsburg resident Robin Barber agrees that businesses may call for customers to put on face coverings, but she likely would not patronize Moore’s Home Again store.

Barber recently took her business to another nursery to buy trees when the first one she went to asked her don a mask.

“I just don’t feel like it’s necessary,” she said. “I think the whole thing has turned really political. I feel like it’s against our freedom to be forced to have to do that.”

Barber said she doesn’t think the information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other public health agencies about masks is accurate and is misleading.

Advice about wearing masks has been inconsistent.

The CDC initially said masks weren’t effective against the coronavirus — except N95 masks, but those should be reserved for health care workers. Now it encourages cloth masks — not necessarily for someone’s own protection, but for the protection of others.

But the World Health Organization says medical workers need masks — not healthy people — especially because mask-wearing might produce a false sense of security and lead to reduced social distancing or hand-washing.

The poll found that 70% of Utahns agree that businesses should be allowed to decide whether customers wear masks. Another 24% disagree, while 4% aren’t sure.

Barber put on a mask when asked to at a nail salon, and said she’s not opposed to wearing one when asked in certain places. She said she does it out of respect for the person because everyone has a right to feel the way that they feel.

“Nobody’s wrong and nobody’s right,” she said. “We’re in a situation right now where people are nervous and upset and stressed.”

The poll found that 57% of Utahns when in public with others who are nervous about not wearing a mask respect their point of view and put one on. But the survey also showed that 35% would not don a face covering in that situation, while 9% weren’t sure.

Utah State University student Curtis Chandler said for him, wearing a mask depends on how “hot” the area is with coronavirus. COVID-19 case counts where he lives in Cache County aren’t as high as in Davis County where his family lives, he said. He said he would consider putting one on in Salt Lake County, but in Cache Valley “I feel comfortable without one.”

Chandler said he wore a mask for his job at the campus market, but now that he works on the grounds, he doesn’t wear one.

According the poll, 55% of Utahns agree that state and local governments have the legal authority to require residents to wear masks in public, while 40% disagree and 5% aren’t sure.

“I feel like that isn’t too harsh of a request compared to some other virus restrictions,” Chandler said. “In general, I feel like the state in Utah has reacted well to the virus in comparison to what it looks like some other place.”

Chandler said it’s all about personal health.

“If someone wants to wear a mask, I think that’s totally fine,” he said. “If the state, though, were to say everyone needs to wear a mask and I saw people not wearing it, I would try to avoid them and it would irk me a little bit.”