OGDEN — Mask rules and other COVID-19 guidelines vary widely across Ogden and Weber County in the wake of the easing of the statewide mask mandate that went into effect earlier this month.
"Everybody's got their own take on it," said Sue Wilkerson, co-owner of the Lighthouse Lounge on Historic 25th Street in Ogden.
In her locale, staff are required to wear masks until the COVID-19 transmission designation in Weber County, now moderate, falls to low. Patrons, though, don't have to wear masks, she said, noting a filtration system installed in the lounge that scrubs bacteria from the air.
Down 25th Street, signage outside Lucky Slice, the pizza place, sounds a different message. "We as a company have chosen to continue to require a mask to enter the building, thank you for your understanding," it reads. Another sign below it is more urgent: "NO MASK NO SERVICE!!!!!"
A new public health order went into effect on April 10, relaxing rules on when masks must be worn. Until at least June 15, they still must be used at schools and at gatherings of 50 or more people, but otherwise, the prior mandate requiring face coverings in public places largely fell away. Business operators, including those who run restaurants, may set their own mask rules, but they're not required to.
"Without a mandate in place, businesses are able to set their own policies. Our recommendation is still to wear a mask and maintain a six-foot separation for other people, especially if you’re not vaccinated," said Michela Harris, environmental health director for the Weber-Morgan Health Department. "This protects you and the people you associate with or happen to cross paths with in a public setting."
The mask mandate in the five Weber County Library System facilities has even been eased. Rules at the libraries had been among the most rigorous in the county, with staffers asking each person entering whether they had experienced COVID-19 symptoms, among other things, and requiring mask use. Now a sign at the entry to the Main Branch library in Ogden advises library goers only that masks are recommended.
Lynnda Wangsgard, the director of the library system, said the change trickled down from guidance offered by the Weber-Morgan Health Department. Staffers may use masks, though they don't have to.
"We're still recommending that people be careful," Wangsgard said. Library officials, she went on, are "still wary" though "not uncomfortable" with the change in rules.
Kim Bowsher, head of the Ogden Downtown Alliance, a group that advocates for Ogden's independent businesses, says most businesses seem to be requiring continued mask use among workers. But they're only recommending mask use by customers, not requiring it. Some locales have implemented such policies, she thinks, because they don't want to be put in the position of policing their customers, without the backing of a state mandate.
Big-box stores may still have mandates, she noted, "but they have a lot more resources behind that." That is, they have staff to help enforce and encourage mask use and the backing from their corporate owners.
The changes haven't seemed to spur any backlash, either among mask foes or those who favor continued mask use. "The majority of the questions coming into our building are vaccine related as opposed to COVID restrictions or requirements," Harris said.
In fact, Wilkerson said the mask mandate, when in effect, seemed to be more conducive to strong backlash — from maskless customers irritated when asked by security to cover their mouths. "We've had some ugly situations," she said.
These days, she figures about half the customers in the Lighthouse Lounge still wear masks.
Anecdotally, Trevor Warner, spokesperson for the Davis County Health Department, said most places there seem to still require masks, at least the places he's visited. Either way, he recommends continued mask use among those uncomfortable without their covering.
"We would still recommend if you're in a space where you're not comfortable, wear a mask, go somewhere else," he said.