SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Before the Salt Lake County Council voted to reject a recommended mask requirement Thursday, a pediatric infectious disease specialist said overturning Dr. Angela Dunn’s elementary school mask mandate would be “a terrible mistake.”

“I feel very very strongly that we are about to put our children at great risk,” Dr. Andrew Pavia of University of Utah Health and Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital said.

Dr. Pavia pointed out that 16,000 children are now hospitalized with COVID-19 across the U.S., more than any time during the pandemic. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics reported 93,824 child cases nationally in the week ending Aug. 5, about 15% of all reported cases that week.

Here in Utah, the Department of Health reports a total of 48,946 cases in children 14 and under. Dr. Pavia worries that number could skyrocket if we start school without universal masking.

“Masks work best if everyone wears them,” he told reporters. “They don’t work terribly well for the person who is wearing a mask if everyone around them is shedding virus. We do know that school can be safe in person, but it can’t be safe if we don’t have universal masking…There is no serious risk to wearing a mask and there are very, very serious risks to allowing COVID to spread unchecked in our schools.”

Dr. Pavia had very strong words for the Salt Lake County Council members who voted to overturn Dr. Dunn’s recommended mask mandate for the County’s K through 6th grade students.

“I think they don’t understand the risk to children. They may not understand the science behind mask use,” Dr. Pavia said. “I think the most important principle here is we really want to follow the science and leave scientific decisions in the hands of people who have our kids’ best interests at heart, and who are not subject to the political whims that affect politicians…As doctors and public health officials, we take responsibility for trying to protect the health of kids and I think if people overturn those recommendations and kids get very sick or kids die, they have to realize that it is their responsibility now. They should think very long and hard about that.”

Dr. Pavia says two COVID patients are currently in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, adding that because of a number of reasons, Primary Children’s Hospital currently has no available beds and is operating under surge capacity protocols.