SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – When school starts in August, students across Utah will return to the classroom without a mask mandate — as less than a third of those 12 to 18 years old are vaccinated.

And as schools re-open, hospitals are re-living scenes from 2020 as the number of COVID-19 patients increases.

“Today, more than 240 people in the hospital with COVID, a month ago there were 161 people in the hospital with COVID,” said Gov. Spencer Cox during a news conference Thursday.

“We’re always worried about the hospitalization side of things,” added Cox.

The concern, he says, is that COVID-19 will spread among students. The students will go home and risk infecting family members. Gov. Cox says he’s seen the scenario play out before, and it remains a likely one with roughly 55% of eligible Utahns having been vaccinated.

“What happened was kids got it, brought it home, mom and dad weren’t vaccinated,” said Cox.

“Mom and dad got it, mom and dad in the hospital — or, unfortunately passed away. That’s really what we need to avoid,” added Cox.

He said Utah officials are working with schools to have vaccine clinics on location, if schools want them. He’s also urging kids 12 and older to get vaccinated before the first day of school.

“Vaccines work better than masks, vaccines work better than social distancing, vaccines just work.”