SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – As Utahns continue to navigate life during the COVID-19 pandemic, local officials call for unity among Utahns and continue conversations about testing and back-to-school.
Update on back-to-school manual
Thursday, state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn revealed changes to school quarantine protocols. The Utah Department of Health initially released the guidelines in a back-to-school COVID-19 manual for students, teachers, and parents last week.
Following input from the public, the state will remove its original recommendation that would allow students and teachers to attend school or extra-curricular activities while they’re in quarantine.
This means anytime a person has been within six feet – for 15 minutes or more – of a person who tests positive with the respiratory virus must stay home from school – even if they do not show any signs or symptoms.
“The original manual that we put out last week followed public health guidance with regards to quarantine for employees in essential industries. And so, we felt like it was responsible to allow students and teachers who are on quarantine, but have no symptoms to attend school if they were able to wear a face covering and practice social distancing,” Dunn said.
She said feedback from stake holders suggested they were not comfortable with the protocol, and the health department is willing to adjust and provide a more strict recommendation (14-day quarantine) – as it still follows good, public health practice.
“Everything we’re trying to do is balance,” Dunn said. “Keeping kids in school safely while also preventing the spread of COVID-19. We’ll have to see how this plays out and how quarantine at home for 14 days impacts the flow of in-person education.”
Dunn said the manual is strictly a recommendation for schools and districts and said the manual can still change, as schools reopen and officials continue to study the virus.
“Schools and parents are not required to follow any of these recommendations,” Dunn said. “It does serve as a blueprint for schools as they make important decisions on how to safely reopen.”
Fewer than 400 cases is the new goal
Governor Gary Herbert set a new goal for Utahns to have the state’s seven-day rolling average drop below 400 by September 1.
“I think if we all work together we can do this,” Herbert said. “We need to do this, and I think it’s a new challenge, new opportunity, new goal – for us to in fact to continue to dampen the spread of the coronavirus.”
Teaming up for increased testing
With a need for increased COVID-19 testing as well as turn-around time for test results, Herbert announced Utah – along with seven other states – will team up with the Rockefeller Foundation to help meet that need.
This partnership with the foundation is meant to provide 500,000 antigen tests to the eight states involved in efforts to increase testing.
“Having concerns with testing and making sure our testing improves. Not only the quality, of the testing, but accessibility, cost, and time of lab tests to turn around results,” Herbert said.
Herbert said while this interstate COVID-19 testing compact is in the early stages of completion, he says he’s confident it will help to slow the spread of COVID-19 – as results will be available within 30 minutes.
States that have already joined in the effort to detect and prevent outbreaks faster include Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia.
With Utah’s entry, the compact will expand to four million tests.
Unity during pandemic
As Utahns work to limit the spread of COVID-19 in the Beehive State, local officials call for unity.
“As a community, we’re grappling collectively with one of the most difficult situations that any one of us has ever faced,” said Tami Pyfer, the governor’s education advisor.
“We should work together in collaboration and cooperation,” Hebert said.
“And this is a reflection of Utah residents caring about each other and their community, to keep everyone safe,” said Dunn.
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