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Salt Lake County school districts informing parents of mask mandate

Mandate goes into effect shortly after midnight Saturday

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Josh Bird, Leslie Mancilla, Kaiden Smolka and Kingston Pedokie wear masks in their third grade class at Nibley Park School.

Josh Bird, Leslie Mancilla, Kaiden Smolka and Kingston Pedokie wear masks in their third grade class at Nibley Park School in Salt Lake City on Aug. 24, 2021. A Salt Lake County mask mandate, which takes effect at 12:01 a.m. Saturday and will remain in place until 5 p.m. on Feb. 7, will apply to schools, Salt Lake County Health Department spokesman Nicholas Rupp said.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

Most school districts in Salt Lake County were preparing Friday to inform school communities that students and employees will have to mask up on Monday under a health order issued Friday.

The 30-day order was issued by Dr. Angela Dunn, executive director of the Salt Lake County Health Department, as state health authorities reported record numbers of COVID-19 cases. The statewide count of new cases exceeded 9,400 on Friday.

The order requires people in Salt Lake County — regardless of vaccination status or past COVID-19 infection — to wear “well-fitting masks when indoors or queueing outdoors in public.” The order goes into effect shortly after midnight on Saturday, which means weekend school activities would also be affected.

“We are preparing messaging to parents right now,” said Doug Perry, spokesman for the Murray School District, regarding the order.

Ben Horsley, the Granite School District’s chief of staff, said the district is also reaching out to staff and students.

“It is clear from our communications with county health that this applies to schools and we are proceeding as so ordered with communications indicating that masks will be required,” Horsley said.

Jordan School District is “proceeding as ordered with communications to students, parents and employees indicating that masks will be required,” said spokeswoman Sandy Riesgraf.

Canyons School District will launch its messaging once it is clear that the Salt Lake County Council will allow the order to stand, said spokesman Jeff Haney.

Under a law passed by the Utah Legislature, both the County Council and state lawmakers have the power to overturn actions taken by local public health departments. Last fall, the council overturned an order by Dunn that would have required masking in elementary schools. At the time, federal regulators had not yet authorized the use of COVID-19 vaccines in younger children.

Salt Lake City schools have been under an emergency order calling for mask wearing since the start of the school year that was issued by Mayor Erin Mendenhall and has been sustained by the City Council on multiple occasions.

The countywide order comes as a number of schools in Salt Lake County are approaching “test-to-stay” thresholds, which means students must test negative for COVID-19 to attend school.

Park City High School, in Summit County, conducted testing under the protocol Friday morning.

The University of Utah is exploring whether the mandate would apply to its campuses, said spokeswoman Morgan Aguilar.

Westminster College, a private liberal arts college, had previously required mask wearing in its classrooms.

Both Dunn and Salt Lake County Council member Aimee Winder Newton specifically mentioned schools in their communications regarding the order.

“We also need to ensure that our essential services have the staff necessary to operate —from law enforcement, to plow drivers, to schoolteachers. It is my obligation as health officer to take the action I believe has the best chance to prevent unnecessary suffering throughout our community,” Dunn said.

Newton, a Republican, said she generally opposes mandates. But in this instance “I believe this is necessary to send a message that decreased social contact is imperative so that we do not overwhelm our hospitals and can keep schools and businesses open,” she tweeted.