ST. GEORGE, Utah (ABC4) – The Georgia Tech Risk Assessment Planning Study, a collaborative project led by universities and the CDC, uses local, state, and national COVID-19 data to see just how easy it is for the virus to spread in groups.

In Washington County, school district leaders say there could be 20 to 30 students in some classes. According to this risk assessment, in a class size of 20 students, the chances of a student being exposed to COVID-19 is 15%.

“Even though there are no health mandates in place, likely won’t be in the state, we would still encourage people to wear masks voluntarily, especially if there’s any illness in the family. Whether it’s going to school or work that you stay home, get tested, and then follow quarantine and isolation guidelines,” says David Heaton, the spokesperson for the Southwest Utah Public Health Department.

Researchers say by default, they assume there are five times more cases than are being reported. As a result, the risk of being exposed to COVID-19 could be as high as 24%.

“And there’s a chance over the next couple of months that we may see vaccines approved for even younger ages, so we’re encouraging residents get vaccinated, use the precautions that we’ve been encouraging over the past year and a half to keep the spread down as much as possible,” says Heaton.

In Iron County, where new infections are among the highest in Utah, for a class size of 25, the current risk level is at 24%, and if there are five times more cases than are being reported, that number increases to 37%.

“I think the concern would come, just for the fact right now, those two counties where most of our population is really at high transmission levels,” says Heaton.

However, Washington nor Iron Counties will require masks in schools, after a Utah Law passed stating only a local health district can mandate that. Heaton says they are not considering making masks mandatory, despite the high transmission levels.

“Our encouragement continues to be that we think the large bulk of our population knows the risk, they know the guidelines, and they know where to get the data and we’re just encouraging them to use personal responsibility to protect themselves and their community, to use common sense,” says Heaton.

Heaton says the department is working with the districts in Southern Utah to alert parents electronically if there are COVID-19 exposures in schools.