Extension of mask mandate sought for Grand County schools

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MOAB, Utah (ABC4) – Masks are likely to make a return for Grand County School students under a new public health order expected to take effect on Thursday, October 7.

In the public health order obtained by ABC4, the Southeast Utah Health Department calls for the school district’s mask mandate to return for another 30 days, until November 6, unless otherwise extended, rescinded, superseded, or amended.

The order, from Executive Director/Health Officer Bradon Bradford, says factors that could affect the order including Grand County’s COVID-19 transmission level, the district’s transmission level, hospital and ICU rates throughout Utah, and the emergency use authorization of COVID-19 vaccines for children ages 5-11.

After the 30 day review, the health order could be extended in 30-day increments but not beyond 60 days from the day of an emergency use authorization for a vaccine for children between the ages of 5-11.

Currently, Bradford explains in the order that Grand County is at a high level of COVID-19 transmission based on rates set by the State of Utah and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There are seven active cases of COVID-19 among students and staff – all among the age group eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine – at Grand County High School. Meanwhile, there are almost 1,400 children under the age of 12-years-old in Grand County who are ineligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

Based on the county’s COVID-19 transmission level, and the lack of a vaccine for those under the age of 12, the Southeast Utah Department of Health is now calling for a reinstated mask requirement at Grand County schools.

Just a week ago, Grand County School Superintendent Taryn Kay said officials are going to rely on science when it comes to masking – or not – in schools. In a letter to the school community, Kay explains whether or not students should wear masks in the classroom has been “one of the most divisive issues.”

In mid-August, the Grand County School District mandated masks for all K-6 students while indoors. District officials pointed at the lack of a vaccine for those under the age of 12 as the reasoning behind the mask mandate. In early September, Grand County High School was forced to cancel classes due to a COVID-19 outbreak among students and staff members. Amid the outbreak, officials enacted a mask mandate for all schools in the district starting on Sept. 8.

Parents in Grand County had mixed reactions to the announcement. Kay says one of the statements she hears most often from parents is “My child, my choice.” To which she explains – “Covid doesn’t follow that sentiment.”

“If a child in a classroom is unmasked, and carrying the Covid virus, he/she can cause other students in the class to contract Covid. In that situation, a parent is making the choice for another parent’s child to contract Covid,” she continues. Within the letter, Kay stated the district was working with local health partners and elected officials to review local COVID-19 data.

Grand County’s current school mask mandate is set to end on October 8.

“The goal of GCSD is not to have zero Covid cases. We know that isn’t a possibility. Instead, our goal is to keep students and staff as safe as we can, minimize the number of positive Covid cases, and keep students continuously in school,” Kay’s letter continues. “GCSD supports the mask mandate because we know that when students wear masks they are more protected than when they do not. There are fewer absences when a mask mandate is in place. Fewer students have to quarantine. There are significantly fewer cases of Covid and less spread of Covid at school when a mask mandate is in place.”

To read the full letter, click here.

As of early Wednesday afternoon, the newest health order obtained by ABC4 has not yet been signed. ABC4 will provide updates on-air and online as new information is released.

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