SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – The contentious debate about school mask mandates took center stage this past month in the conversation about COVID-19. This comes as students, teachers, and staff prepare to head back to class with hope of some normalcy this year. Case numbers, hospitalizations, and deaths began to surge again from the Delta variant in Utah and across the country, pushing ICUs to capacity once more and overwhelming frontline healthcare workers. A number of nurses have quit, some leaving the industry altogether, expressing exhaustion and frustration about those who still refuse to get vaccinated.
Meanwhile, doctors are seeing breakthrough cases of COVID-19, but insist that these individuals who contracted the virus would have had much worse symptoms if they weren’t vaccinated. Overseas, the United Kingdom, India, and South Korea detected cases of a new mutation called the “Delta plus.” But said it’s too early to know if this mutation is more vaccine-resistant or contagious than the existing Delta variant. For the immunocompromised, the FDA approved a third dose of the vaccine, which is administered 28 days after the second shot. There will also be availability of a booster shot in the upcoming months, which is given eight months after a person’s second dose.
On a national scale, this summer’s case surge is actually worse than last year, despite three vaccines on the market and more than 60 percent of adults fully inoculated. There is still not a vaccine available for students under the age of 12, and the number of children in the hospital for COVID-19 is at an all-time high since the pandemic began. With state lawmakers prohibiting school mask mandates through a law passed earlier this year in a special session, the Utah Department of Health could only make recommendations of safety protocols that include vaccinations, mask-wearing, and social distancing.
Salt Lake County Health Department’s Dr. Angela Dunn joined other county leaders including Mayor Jenny Wilson to finalize a proposal to require masks for school children under the age of 12 when indoors. But the Salt Lake County Council voted down the submitted proposal 6-3 back on August 12th. On Friday, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall enacted her emergency powers to mandate masks in K-12 schools in the Salt Lake City School District.
Meg Randle, a palliative care nurse practitioner for Intermountain Healthcare, and Bretton Newman, a contemplative medicine fellow and hospice physician for NYC Zen Center joined ABC4’s Rosie Nguyen on the CW30 News at 7 p.m. for an IN FOCUS discussion. They talked about how their work has changed after the pandemic, their role in comforting families who can’t see their loved ones in their final days, and the new experiences they’ve had in providing end-of-life care.
Susan Robel, chief nursing officer for Intermountain Healthcare shared how the workload for nurses have changed after the pandemic, how full hospitals are right now, whether they’ve seen nurses quit due to stress and frustration, and what can be done to nurses in need right now.
Claudia Ceron and Ayan Nor, both community health workers with Salt Lake County Health Department discussed what we know about the Delta variant, why vaccines are the best tool for protection, how it impacts the immunocompromised, and other precautions that vaccinated people can take.
To watch the full IN FOCUS discussion with Randle, Newman, Robel, Ceron, and Nor click on the video at the top of the article.
Catch IN FOCUS discussions with ABC4’s Rosie Nguyen weeknights on the CW30 News at 7 p.m.