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Doctor offers ways to keep students safe if masks aren't mandated; Utah reports 634 new cases

Zachary Noyce holds a sign in support of school mask mandates outside of the Utah State Board of Education office in
Salt Lake City on Friday. The Utah Department of Health reported 634 new COVID-19 cases and eight deaths from the disease on Tuesday.

Zachary Noyce holds a sign in support of school mask mandates outside of the Utah State Board of Education office in Salt Lake City on Friday. The Utah Department of Health reported 634 new COVID-19 cases and eight deaths from the disease on Tuesday. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)



SALT LAKE CITY — Utah legislators outlawed statewide school mask mandates earlier this year, but one public health professional said Tuesday there are still ways to make sure students are safe in classrooms this fall.

First of all, it's important to make sure everyone in your family who is eligible is vaccinated against COVID-19, said Dr. Andrew Pavia, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at University of Utah Health.

"It protects your children who are too young to be vaccinated, and keeps you from needing to quarantine if they are infected at school," Pavia said in a Twitter thread Tuesday.

The Utah Department of Health, meanwhile, reported 634 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday, along with eight deaths and 5,817 new vaccine doses administered. There are 380 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19, health officials said.

Masks work best if everyone wears them because your mask protects others around you and, in turn, masks that other people are wearing protect you, Pavia said. Having everyone in a school classroom wearing masks has been shown to greatly reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, he added.

He recommends that parents have their child wear a mask that fits properly and make sure they understand why it's important to wear one.

KN95 masks are better than surgical or cloth masks but don't work as well as universal masking, Pavia said. Utah Gov. Spencer Cox recently announced that all K-12 students in the state who want a KN95 or N95 mask will be provided a free one for the start of the school year.

Parents and teachers can also get together and do what they can to get as many students as possible in their classrooms wearing masks, Pavia said.

"The law does not prevent parents and teachers from getting together and explaining that they expect everyone to live up (to) values of mutual caring and protection," he said.

But the most important thing parents can do, the doctor said, is reach out to their county health departments and elected officials to express support for masks.

"The anti-maskers are a minority, but well organized and vocal. Make your voice heard," Pavia said.

The rolling seven-day average number of positive cases per day is now at 812, according to the health department. The positive test rate per day for that time period calculated with the "people over people" method is now 14.1%. The positive test rate per day for that time period calculated with the "test over test" method is now 10.1%.

Of the 380 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Utah as of Tuesday, 151 are in intensive care units, according to the health department. About 79% of all ICU beds in Utah are now occupied, including 82% of the ICU beds in the state's 16 referral hospitals. About 55% of the state's non-ICU hospital beds are now occupied in the state.

The eight deaths reported Tuesday were:

  • A Millard County man over the age of 85 who was not hospitalized when he died.
  • Three Salt Lake County men, 65-84, all hospitalized.
  • A Salt Lake County woman, 45-64, hospitalized.
  • A Beaver County man, 45-64, hospitalized.
  • A Utah County man, 65-84, hospitalized.
  • A Washington County man, older than 85, hospitalized.

A total of 3,090,493 vaccine doses have now been administered in Utah, the health department reported. A total of 1,716,157 Utahns — which is about 53.5% of the state's total population — have received at least one dose of the vaccine. A total of 1,506,312 Utahns — which is about 47% of the population — are now fully vaccinated.

About 66.2% of vaccine-eligible Utahns ages 12 and older have received at least a first vaccine dose, and 58.1% are fully vaccinated.

Of the 2,980,213 people tested for COVID-19 in Utah so far, 14.8% have tested positive for COVID-19. The number of total tests conducted in Utah since the pandemic began is now at 5,407,488, up 10,015 since Monday. Of those, 5,727 were tests of people who hadn't previously been tested for COVID-19.

Tuesday's totals give Utah 441,131 total confirmed cases, with 19,062 total hospitalizations and 2,511 total deaths from the disease.

Methodology

See more details about KSL.com's COVID-19 data and methodology by clicking this link.

More information about Utah's health guidance levels is available at coronavirus.utah.gov/utah-health-guidance-levels.

Information is from the Utah Department of Health and coronavirus.utah.gov/case-counts. For more information on how the Utah Department of Health compiles and reports COVID-19 data, visit coronavirus.utah.gov/case-counts and scroll down to the "Data Notes" section at the bottom of the page.

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