SALT LAKE CITY — A majority of Utahns support the ongoing mask mandate in Utah's K-12 schools, a recent Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll shows.
When asked if they agree with Gov. Spencer Cox administration's decision to continue the mandate beyond the April 10 date when the statewide mask order otherwise ended under HB294, 63% of Utahns said they either strongly or somewhat agree.
Meanwhile, 35% said they somewhat or strongly disagree with order while 3% said they were not sure, according to poll results.
Cox announced on Facebook Thursday morning that the statewide mask mandate for schoolchildren will end the last week of school. Previously, the order said it would end the last day of school or June 15, whichever came first.
"Schools and districts can still require masks. We are making this a local decision. Please be respectful of the local decision-making process," he wrote.
As the school year winds to a close, some school districts have announced they will not enforce wearing masks at school, the largest among them Washington County School District, which serves nearly 40,000 students.
However, Washington County school officials are encouraging students to continue to wear masks.
Morgan County School Board took a similar stance, said spokeswoman Gwen Romero.
"The feeling was more or less just let these last couple of weeks feel more like normal so that people can be feeling a little more optimistic about coming back to school in the fall, and leave some of those health decisions more up to the individuals," she said.
Romero, who also teaches for the school district, has observed "most of the students and staff are choosing not to mask."
The issue has become increasingly contentious as Utahns who object to the state-level mandate have rallied outside of school district administration offices, disrupted school board meetings to the point that at least one had to be adjourned and parents have attempted to seek entry to schools with their children who were not wearing masks without recognized exemptions.
Amid mounting pressure from parents, Cox recently announced the state has no plans to require masks for students in K-12 schools next fall, saying rising vaccination rates indicate districts are prepared to limit restrictions.
The earlier state order for schools took into account that federal regulators had not yet approved coronavirus vaccines for children. Earlier this week, the Food and Drug Administration lowered the age that people in the United States can receive Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine to 12.
Other rationales for the state school mask mandate have not changed: Children can get sick from COVID-19 and have long-term effects; not all adults in school settings have been vaccinated; and the virus can still be spread by asymptomatic children.
Heidi Matthews, president of the Utah Education Association, said the organization has consistently supported the guidance of doctors and public health officials regarding public health practices and policies intended to enhance public health during the pandemic.
"I think this survey really indicates that most people do understand that rationale," Matthews said.
The poll, conducted by independent pollster Scott Rasmussen for the Deseret News and the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points. Rasmussen's firm surveyed 1,000 registered Utah voters April 30 through May 6, prior to Cox's latest announcements.
Matthews said Utahns, regardless of political ideologies, want students to have everything they need to learn and be successful at school.
"That means supporting our educators so that they can support our students and our and our families. It means taking those precautions so that we don't threaten the health and wellbeing of all people in schools," she said.
Among Utahns grouped by ages 18-34 and 35-54, who typically include parents of school-age children, 63% in both groups either strongly or somewhat supported Cox's decision.
Support for the decision was highest among Democrats polled with a combined 90% either strongly or somewhat agreeing with the order. Just under half of respondents who identified as Republicans agree with the order, and there were similar results between those who identified as conservative or liberal.
Meanwhile, 67% of moderates said they either strongly agree or somewhat agree with the ongoing mask mandate in schools.
Among faith groups or those who claim none, the highest support for the decision was among the "none" group, of which a combined 73% said they strongly or somewhat agree with the mandate.
Among respondents who identified as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a combined 57% indicated agreement with continuing the mandate compared to a combined 65% among those who identified as "other" faith groups.