SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – The stakes in the debates over school mask mandates and vaccinations were higher Friday afternoon, one day after we learned that an unvaccinated Salt Lake County teenager recently died of COVID-19.
County health department officials say the unnamed girl had no underlying conditions and passed away in a hospital. It’s a tragedy that one local man hopes will change policies and save other children.
Chris Phillips is the husband of a teacher, the father of three children under 12, and an employee in the public health field—all roles that led him to create Concerned Coalition, a group asking for a mask mandate in schools.
While we don’t know where or how the 15 to 17-year-old girl contracted the virus, her death is the kind of incident Phillps feared.
“It’s a terrible gut punch,” Phillips tells ABC4 News. “I’m just really sad for her family, for what she must have struggled through, and at this time I think it’s a terrible tragedy that this had to happen.”
In a tweet Thursday, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said, “Today’s news that a teenager from our county died is tragic, and my heart is with her family, friends, and community. At her age, the horizon of life was wide open, offering endless possibilities. Please protect yourselves and your loved ones.”
Phillips, whose group has filed a temporary restraining order to block Utah’s law against mask mandates, wants the teen’s untimely death to be a wake-up call and a pivotal moment.
“I hope that this does show people the reality of the situation we’re facing,” Phillips says. “We have members of our community who continue to deny that COVID is real and it impacts kids, but we know that it is real and teenagers and even younger children can be impacted by this. They can get sick. They can be hospitalized and even the worst can happen. This is not a game. This is not a political game to play. It’s not a challenge between different political ideologies. These are our kids’ lives on the balance here and we really need to act to make sure they’re safe and our communities are safe.”
To learn more about Concerned Coalition, go to: https://www.concernedcoalition.org/