SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4) – The Salt Lake County Health Department is calling for more COVID-19 testing in schools. The department is presenting new data to the Salt Lake County Council on why testing is important for students.

“When we sent kids back to school (in most districts) without wearing masks, then that was kind of the equation of the perfect storm, facilitating further spread within school districts,” said Annie George, an epidemiologist for the county health department.

Data shows Salt Lake County school districts are testing about 5% of their student population.

And George said a high percentage of students are testing positive for COVID-19.

“That means there’s likely a lot of students that are positive and are not getting tested,” George said.

Dr. Angela Dunn, the county health department executive director told the council Tuesday that Granite and Murray school districts have the highest percentage of students testing positive for the virus paired with low testing rates.

“That means those districts are missing a lot of cases so there are kids out there going to school with COVID and they don’t know it,” she said.

Dr. Dunn continued to say Canyons School District has a low percent positivity and a high percent of population being tested, which is what she said public health officials want to see.

George said if students don’t get tested for the virus, it creates an inaccurate picture of how schools are doing in the fight against COVID-19.

Compared to last year, George said cases have slightly dropped off in kids who are eligible for a vaccine. And data shows that cases have increased in children 5-to-11-years-old.

“Right now, we’re seeing a majority of cases in elementary schools. So, the kids that don’t yet have the opportunity to get vaccinated. We’re hoping that changes here pretty quickly,” George said.

Dr. Dunn said the CDC believes vaccines for children will begin to be available at the start of November.

While it will take some time to get enough vaccines for all 5-to-11-years-old, Dr. Dunn said she anticipates a slower start to vaccination.

“It did take us a while to ramp up with the 12-to-17-year-olds,” she said. “So, we are doing our best now, working with the schools and pediatricians to increase that demand now…We do anticipate a slower start and then kind of keeping up that persistence to get all the kids vaccinated.”

Data also shows a majority of district cases are among elementary school students. George said once those children are eligible for the shot and get it, it may take some time for cases to go down.

“Schools are just like a smaller community, right? If we don’t get enough people vaccinated within the schools, nothing is going to change,” George said. “It’s like the larger population as a whole. We didn’t get enough people vaccinated and that’s why Delta took off crazy and started spreading rapidly, so we’ll have to see. It depends on how many kids get vaccinated.”