Moving forward: how Utah plans to keep K-12 students safely learning in-person

Coronavirus Updates

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – In an effort to keep Utah students safely learning in the classroom, state officials are making some changes as to how K through 12 schools will handle COVID-19 moving forward.

Utah Governor Gary Herbert and Utah Department of Health director Rich Saunders acknowledged Thursday that the state has over-quarantined students.

Following Christmas break, quarantine guidelines for students and staff will change.    

“People that have been quarantined we’ve found that about one percent is all that end up showing symptoms of the COVID-19 that have been quarantined,” Herbert said.

“We’ve perhaps been quarantining too many,” Saunders said.

If a student, teacher, or staff member comes into close contact with another person who’s positive for COVID-19, the close contact will not have to quarantine – as long as they don’t show any symptoms.

“If both people are wearing a mask, that qualifies as a low-risk exposure,” Herbert said. “That’s what the data shows us.”

If two people are not wearing a mask and in close contact, Herbert said current quarantine standards still apply.

“Again, I’m emphasizing the importance for everybody in the classroom to wear a mask,” he said.

Herbert said schools will still be required to do contact tracing.

The state’s school mask mandate that was set by Herbert in July was set to expire, which has now been extended to January 21st.

Herbert and Saunders note the statewide mask mandate is still in place for the time being.  

Case counts and thresholds

In an effort to keep students in the classroom, a 1% threshold is the new 15-case count for Utah schools with more than 1,500 students and staff, said Saunders.

For schools with less than 1,500 people, he said the 15-case count still applies.

And the classroom threshold will now only apply to elementary schools.

“Schools that reach the outbreak threshold will have two options,” Saunders said.

He said schools will have the option to move all students online for 10 days or let them Test-to-Stay.

“All students and staff are offered the chance to receive a rapid antigen test,” Saunders said. “Students who test negative can continue with in-person learning. Those who test positive – or who choose not to be tested –  will move to virtual learning for 10 days.”

Saunders said positive cases identified through Test-to-Stay will not count toward the schools’ outbreak threshold.

“The purpose of Test-to-Stay is to promote consistent and safe in-person learning,” he said.

The goal of these changes

Saunders told ABC4 News that the strategies put into place Thursday are designed to create balance and help aid in efforts moving forward.

“What we’re looking for is a safe transition from where we are today to the day when we cannot be so conscientious about not wearing masks, being so concerned about the risk level and that life kind of resumes a new normal level,” he said.

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