As the new academic year approaches, the Utah Department of Health is encouraging vaccination of all people age 12 and older and recommends mask-wearing indoors at schools, according to new guidelines it released Monday.
The “layered prevention approach” includes a number of recommendations but no mandates, consistent with Utah law. The guidance comes as the seven-day average for positive COVID-19 cases is 861. Fifteen additional deaths were reported Monday for the most recent weekend period, bringing the state’s death toll from the virus to 2,466.
“We strongly recommend local health departments and schools use a layered prevention approach, including encouraging vaccination and mask-wearing, among other strategies,” Dr. Michelle Hofmann, deputy director of the Utah Department of Health, said in a statement.
The recommendations also include:
- Isolating at home if you test positive for COVID-19.
- Quarantine and other protective measures after a school exposure.
- Testing for COVID-19.
- Staying home when you’re sick.
- Physical distancing and grouping students and staff into cohorts.
- Improving or increasing indoor ventilation.
- Hygiene practices.
- Cleaning and disinfection.
“Doing so can help minimize the disruptions of COVID-19 on schools while maximizing opportunities for children to participate in in-person learning and extracurricular activities,” Hoffman said.
The full recommendations can be found at coronavirus.utah.gov/education.
The guidance was developed with the input of school administrators, local health officers, the Utah Education Association, parents, physicians, locally elected officials, the Utah Legislature and Gov. Spencer Cox’s administration.
Additional options regarding K-12 school exposures have been developed.
Local health departments and school boards will collaborate and use local data to identify which recommended quarantine and protective measures will be used to protect K-12 students, educators and school staff in their area.
Recommendations may be different across the state. Parents and school employees should contact their local health department or school for more information on how COVID-19 will be handled in their school or in extracurricular activities.
House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, said in a statement that he hopes that the “guidelines will help students face fewer interruptions to in-person learning and have a much more consistent educational experience than the previous two school years.”
Wilson said over the past year, Utah “demonstrated that the most effective and balanced policy comes when elected officials and subject-matter experts collaborate together. By balancing expertise with public accountability, Utah has found a way to protect our most vulnerable citizens while allowing individuals to remain personally responsible for their actions.”
While Utah’s COVID-19 response plan places a high priority on minimizing disruption to students’ education, officials are still able to adapt to changing circumstances.
“The governor and county elected officials — in conjunction with local health departments — retain the flexibility to address new developments with the virus, including instating mask usage,” Wilson said.
State epidemiologist Dr. Leisha Nolen urges all Utahns to get vaccinated.
“If you have questions I encourage you to seek out credible information about the vaccines from your health care provider and respected health organizations,” she said in a statement.
“Vaccination is the best way to keep our children safe and healthy in school and free from the disruptions to their learning and extracurricular activities that Utah experienced last school year. I strongly encourage parents to consider having their children wear masks in school because Utah is experiencing high transmission levels of COVID-19. Many of our school-age children are unable to be vaccinated at this time and masks are the next best protection,” Nolen said.
At least one local public health officer has recommended that children too young to be vaccinated against COVID-19 — those under the age of 12 — wear masks when they return to school.
On July 22, Salt Lake County Health Department Executive Director Angela Dunn called for the community to come together “and normalize kids under the age of 12 wearing masks to school indoors.”
Utah lifted its public school mask mandate with the enactment of HB294, passed by state lawmakers in March.