OGDEN — Opening the doors of the five Weber County Library System facilities last week, Lynnda Wangsgard had braced for possible backlash.
The library branches had been closed since March 17, in an attempt to stem the spread of coronavirus. As part of their reopening on May 11, library officials implemented a policy requiring that patrons wear mouth coverings, among other things. Given the simmering debate around the country over restrictions and guidelines aimed at combatting COVID-19, Wangsgard figured some might bristle at the requirements as heavy-handed.
“But I have not received one phone call,” she said.
Four would-be patrons opted not to submit to the rules, refusing to don masks and deciding not to enter library facilities. But in general, Wangsgard said the policy has mustered “overwhelming support.”
As life evolves in the age of coronavirus, the increasing ubiquitousness of precautions like masks, hand sanitizer and social-distancing rules doesn’t seem to be causing an inordinate uproar in Weber County — at least publicly.
Kim Bowsher is head of the Ogden Downtown Alliance, a coalition of restaurant and other business operators. She didn’t detect any tension between those wearing masks and those without when she visited a local pub that recently reopened.
“I don’t get the sense that anyone was judging on either side,” she said. “Maybe in real life people aren’t as vitriolic as they are on social (media), which is good.”
Likewise, Michela Harris, environmental health director for the Weber-Morgan Health Department, said business operators seem to be willingly abiding by department guidelines and restrictions meant to slow coronavirus’ spread.
“For the most part, they have been really willing to comply,” Harris said. “We didn’t really have much pushback on any of the requirements.”
Businesses haven’t been perfect, though, and the public has spoken out, pressing for corrections when they observe shortcomings. Harris’ division is responsible for enforcing health guidelines, and between May 1 and last Tuesday, it had received 74 complaints levied against 29 businesses — all of them food operations. Rather than decrying required use of masks, however, 26 of the complaints stemmed from lack of use of them by restaurant workers.
Another 28 complaints were more broad, for not following health department guidelines; nine were for lack of gloves worn by workers; six were for cleanliness issues; and five were for lack of social distancing.
“Most of them came from customers,” although some were from employees, Harris said.
To be sure, government-implemented guidelines and restrictions targeting coronavirus have their foes. A group called Utah Business Revival has formed as a backlash to such guidelines, worried they’re unnecessarily hampering the economy and pose a threat to individual liberties by limiting gatherings. The group sponsored a pair of large assemblies and is planning a concert in Kaysville on May 30, all meant as protest rallies, of sorts.
Eric Moutsos, head of the group, rejects suggestions that the organization, by calling for such gatherings that seem to run counter to coronavirus guidelines in effect around Utah, is condoning reckless behavior.
“Is it any more reckless than being at Costco waiting for toilet paper?” he asked.
Locally, there’s been no large public backlash.
The guidelines are arguably as strict at Weber County Library branches as anywhere else. Before entering the five facilities here, patrons face questioning about whether they have been experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. If so, they can’t enter. They also must allow their temperature to be taken — meant to detect those with fevers, a coronavirus symptom — and have to clean their hands with sanitizer. That’s all in addition to the face coverings.
“They don’t enter the libraries without complying with the protocols,” Wangsgard said.
Wangsgard thought some might clamor about the rules, meant to make the facilities a relatively safe place for older people and others who may have a heightened risk of contracting COVID-19. On the contrary, the guidelines have generated thanks from many, she said. They’ll probably stay in place through May, when library officials may take another look to decide if they remain in effect.
Gov. Gary Herbert on Thursday announced that the state would enter a lower-risk phase of guidelines and restrictions meant to slow coronavirus’ spread as infection rates seem to have edged down. They don’t measurably change the guidelines restaurants have to follow, though, Harris said.