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Are We Done Yet? UT Lawmakers Ponder Bill to End Pandemic

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Utah legislators are working on a bill that would allow them to decide when the COVID-19 pandemic is officially over – or at least, what the state needs to do when the novel coronavirus is no longer a crisis.

House members approved House Bill 294 – the so-called “Endgame Bill” – along party lines this week after a different measure failed that would have immediately ended the state’s mask mandate.

Instead, they approved a bill that essentially instructs state agencies when to “stand down” from the current crisis.

Chase Thomas with the Alliance for a Better Utah said he’s not so sure making it a law is the best way to go.

The focus of a new federal COVID relief package has now shifted to the U.S. Senate.

“We believe it’s a bad idea to put this into statute,” said Thomas. “And to have lawmakers – who are going to be out of session in only a day-and-a-half – setting this hard criteria, when that would be better left to the executive branch and the health department.”

The bill faces an uphill battle. Senate leaders aren’t enthusiastic about it, and Gov. Spencer Cox has not signaled that he would sign the bill if it lands on his desk.

Today is also the last day of the regular session, so time is running out.

HB 294 would declare Utah’s pandemic and its restrictions over, either when the state hits a list of benchmarks or before July 1, whichever comes first.

At that time, state agencies would end the enforcement of policies put in place during the pandemic. Chase said, while everyone is ready for the crisis to be over, you can’t just tell it to stop.

“I think people are anxious about it, and some of the lawmakers up on the hill – I mean, they’ve been anxious this entire time, and we all want to see an end to it,” said Thomas. “It’s just it’s going to take a little time, and we have to be patient.”

If the bill is signed, the mask mandate would end first. Other benchmarks include declaring an end to the pandemic if the state reaches a 14-day case rate of fewer than 191 per 100,000 people, the seven-day average of Intensive Care Unit bed utilization falls below 15%, or when the state has been allocated at least 1.6 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

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