SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4) – Before the end of the school year, masks will not be required in Utah schools, but rather it will be an option. Parents and the Utah Education Association weigh in on the matter as state health officials report a recent rise in school associated COVID-19 cases.
Masks or no masks?
Masks will soon become a choice for those in Utah’s K-12 schools.
For parents with students, the change to the state’s school mask mandate is a reaction that’s different for everyone.
“I’m really excited,” said parent Jeremy Souza. “So, we don’t have to continually wear masks; our kids can walk out of the house and not always feel like they have to have one on.”
“I was kind of disappointed that they lifted the mask mandate anyways, but especially with schools,” said parent Patti Nielsen.
“I just don’t feel like it’s in the best interest of my family or the people that we don’t know.”
Utah Governor Spencer Cox announced the change Thursday.
“We believe that this is the right thing to do, we believe that this is the prudent thing to do, but I will say that masks are still encouraged, and families and children will be able to make those decisions,” Cox said.
The change will allow students and teachers to not mask up for the last week of their school year, he said.
“Give kids an opportunity to see their teachers, to see their friends, to spend that last week together without masks, if they so choose,” Cox said.
Now, he will allow school districts to decide their next move.
In Salt Lake County, Canyons, Granite, Jordan and Murray, school districts will not require masks; rather it will be an option.
As of Friday, the Salt Lake City School District has not yet made a decision.
No matter what side parents stand on, they support the Governor in his call to respect everyone’s choice.
“We just need to be cautious all around. The choice is yours do what you want. If they hang out with friends who don’t have masks on – great – keep yours on,” Nielsen said.
“The parents that want to continue to wear a mask, that’s their choice or their child’s choice. And that does not bother me one bit,” said parent Robyn Souza.
Utah Education Association
Mask requirements being removed in Utah schools came as a surprise to the Utah Education Association.
UEA president Heidi Matthews said some celebrated the news of schools ditching masks, but for many educators, it’s concerning, as they expected the mask mandate to stay in place until the end of the school year.
“We all want to get back to face-to-face school. We all want this to be in the rearview mirror. We just need to do it in a way that doesn’t further risk people who are already vulnerable,” she said.
By the time school starts this fall, Matthews hopes masks won’t be needed. But she said if our health experts recommend they be worn, they will listen to their advice.
COVID-19 cases in schools statewide
Cases of COVID-19 in Utah schools has been a concern throughout the pandemic.
At the height of school-associated cases, the Utah Department of Health reported 4,590 cases over a two-week period, on Nov. 22.
Since then, numbers have fallen. UDOH reported the state’s last peak on Jan. 15, with 3,264 cases.
School-associated cases reached a record low on April 11, with 517 cases statewide.
A UDOH spokesperson said since mid-April, cases have been slowly climbing up.
On May 8, data showed 823 cases among students and teachers, the last high day as of Friday.
School cases settled at 598, on May 14.
“The school data is subject to backfill as it goes by the data the case was reported to public health,” said spokesperson Charla Haley. “If it takes a few days for the health department to contact the case and make the school association, it takes a bit longer to show on the dashboard. For that reason, the number the Utah Department of Health has will be higher than what was actually reported on the daily reports, but the trend is still the same.”
Since the school year began, UDOH reports 38,357 total school associated cases of the virus.