SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Utah’s schools will not require face coverings this year but will provide a K95 or KN95 mask, according to Governor Spencer Cox.

State law currently prevents a mask mandate in schools. The Utah Department of Health, in their recommendations for schools released on Monday, did encourage vaccination and mask-wearing, among other strategies.

However, as Gov. Cox explains, local health departments can issue mask mandates for schools in conjunction with elected county officials. The mandate could stand for 30 days before the county council or commission would need to approve that moving forward.

“There is a possibility, if outbreaks occur, for local health departments, in conjunction with their county officials at the local level to implement mask mandates,” Gov. Cox adds.

He continues, explaining there is a solution to beat the virus – the COVID-19 vaccine – for everyone 12-years-old and older. While there is no vaccine currently approved for those younger than 12, Gov. Cox says there is a “next best thing” – wearing high-quality masks. Wearing masks is not only effective for those too young to get the vaccine, but those who are otherwise unable to get the shot.

Gov. Cox says that because of this, he has directed his team to provide KN95 masks to every school-aged child that wants one. He explains the decision was made because it is currently unclear how well cloth masks protect against the Delta variant but it is known KN95 and N95 masks do work much better to block the virus.

“We will be purchasing those now, we will make those available to schools so children and parents who want their child to be masked – under the age of 11 – will have…the opportunity to have available at no cost to them a KN95 mask,” Gov. Cox announced during Tuesday’s press conference.

He went on to cite conversations he has had with teachers at the lower grade levels and CDC data for those in kindergarten and first grade that mask-wearing can inhibit developmental and verbal skills. Gov. Cox continues, saying parents and families should have conversations about mask-wearing for students.

According to the governor, these masks will be made available to all schools in Utah and each school will also have funds to purchase masks.

To watch the full press conference, click here.