OGDEN — Six months after implementation of a mask mandate at Weber County’s five libraries, enforced by an employee at the entry of each site, they remain among the facilities in the area most protected against possible COVID-19 contamination.
Before entering, librarygoers — no exceptions — face a list of questions from library staffers to ferret out those who may be at risk of infection. Then, aside from donning a face covering, they have to douse their hands with a sanitizing solution.
The guidelines — at the center of a larger national debate over where to draw the line on COVID-19 restrictions — have prompted periodic grumbling among some. The mask mandate is a particular point of ire, according to Holly Okuhara, manager of the Weber County Library System‘s Main Library in Ogden.
Some have even gone to Weber County Commission meetings to air their gripes, like one woman who addressed commissioners at their June 23 meeting.
“I’ve come today to let you guys know I feel like my rights are being violated as a citizen of the U.S. by the county library and by the county. The library is a public place, publicly funded. Therefore I should be able to enter that library without being discriminated (against) and having medical questions asked of me in public,” she said. “They’re not medical professionals and therefore they have no right to ask me those questions.”
But the guidelines, in place since the library reopened on May 11 after a nearly two-month closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic, remain in effect. And library officials say they actually generate more praise than backlash, further noting the statewide mask mandate that went into effect on Nov. 9, called for by Gov. Gary Herbert and the Utah Department of Health. Call it a case study of the upshot of enforced mask requirements and other COVID-19 guidelines.
“A lot of people have said they feel safe coming to the library because of how we are with the checks,” said Haley Van Vlack, who was screening librarygoers at the Main Library in Ogden on Friday.
Indeed, though many businesses post signage at their entries advising patrons to use masks, rules at many locales frequently go unheeded by some and unenforced. Don’t expect that at the county’s five libraries, particularly with the COVID-19 case count spiking here and across the state and now that there is a state mask mandate. And don’t expect immediate change, said Lynnda Wangsgard, director of the library system.
“That’s just our policy. We’re going to keep the libraries as virus-free as we can,” she said.
When the library reopened on May 11, the aim was to create a space where the public could visit in light of the many COVID-19 restrictions limiting other activities. In particular, library officials wanted a place where those more vulnerable to COVID-19 could feel safe. “They wanted them to have an outlet, hope that things were going to get better,” Wangsgard said.
Hence, officials have put a premium on enforcing the guidelines and that isn’t changing, especially now with conditions arguably more dangerous. Guidelines posted on the library system website state that “business as usual” will resume when a COVID-19 vaccine, among other things, is available. “I think it’s important if we’re going to keep high-risk people safe and invite them to come in,” Wangsgard said.
Weber County Commissioner Jim Harvey said it’s up to the library board of trustees to make the call on the matter. County legal reps say library officials are on solid legal footing given the health threat posed by COVID-19.
Okuhara, meawhile, knows of no COVID-19 outbreaks linked to Weber County’s libraries. Moreover, the praise directed toward the library has outweighed complaining.
“We really are trying to take (COVID-19) seriously and they see that,” she said. For many, she said, the county’s libraries are “the one place they feel they can go and feel safe.”