LOGAN, Utah (ABC4) Tomorrow, the Bear River Health Department’s COVID-19 health order that allows for test-to-stay events to be held in elementary school classrooms may expire in three northern Utah counties. Health officials explain why it’s important to keep the order in place.
“Vaccination is still the best tool we have to curb the spread of the disease,” Bear River Health Department Health Officer Jordan Mathis told ABC4.
Children under the age of 12 are not yet approved to get vaccinated against COVID-19. That’s the reason Health Officer Jordan Mathis issued the health order on September 16, 2021. It went into effect on September 20. At that time, Mathis said the order had the support of the county leaders in Cache, Rich, and Box Elder County.
“The goal (of the health order) would be to be very targeted and hedge off the need for a test to stay in an elementary school,” Mathis explained.
Under the order, elementary classrooms hold a test-to-stay event when there are three positive COVID-19 cases in the classroom during a seven-day period. This means the health department is able to identify additional positive cases in the classroom before the spread of the illness would cause a school-wide test-to-stay event.
“Around 70 percent of COVID cases present as asymptomatic.” Bear River Health Department Epidemiologist Caleb Harrison explained. He told ABC4 asympomatic cases are especially common in teens and children. He continued, “Which is why the majority of spread occurs from asymptomatic individuals, and that’s what we’ve seen as a result of these test-to-stay events.”
Over the last month, there have nearly been a dozen classroom test-to-stay events resulting in the identification of more than 40 new positive COVID cases. Harrison said doing testing on the classroom level has been a more effective way for the health department to catch unknown COVID-19 cases. However, that may not be the case for much longer.
“Tomorrow the order will expire unless the county councils, or commissions, have actually voted to keep it and extend the order,” Bear River Health Department Spokesperson Estee Hunt stated. “If it’s extended by the counties, then it expires 60 days past the approval of the vaccine for the younger population, so this isn’t something that we intend to be extended throughout the school year,” added Jordan Mathis.
Hunt explained that having the extension until after the approval of the vaccine for children ages 11 and younger serves two purposes. She said, “In an effort to protect that group that is still unable to get vaccinated, and that 60-day window allows for them to get their full vaccination.”
Officials with the health department told ABC4 that Cache County leaders voted last week to allow the order to expire tomorrow. The officials said Box Elder County leaders will discuss the issue tomorrow. Health officials are hopeful both Box Elder and Rich County leaders will choose to extend the order until the vaccine is approved for elementary-aged children.
“That (the vaccine) is the best tool we have for preventing infection in that age group, preventing severe infection in that age group, and then downstream effects of that are preventing your child from infecting others,” Caleb Harrison explained. The next best tool, or tools, he told ABC4 include having test-to-stay protocols at the classroom level to identify positive cases early, as well as good hand hygiene, and wearing a well-fitted mask indoors when you do not know who is not vaccinated.