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Parents Of High-Risk Kids Worry About Sending Their Kids Back To School Without Mask Requirements Amid The Latest COVID Spike photo.jpg
Ivana Martinez
A teacher leads a class at Mountain View Elementary. Classrooms likely won't be full of masks as students return to school in August. Jessica Pyper, whose `10-year-old is at higher risk for severe COVID-19 and can’t get vaccinated yet. “I just feel like families like ours weren’t considered,” she said.

Utah’s public schools won’t be allowed to mandate masks when students return next month because of a law passed by the Legislature in May.

Meanwhile, cases are spiking and the more contagious Delta variant is becoming dominant.

Some parents of high-risk kids, like Jessica Pyper, are worried. Pyper has a 10-year-old son with Type 1 diabetes, which means he’s at higher risk for severe COVID-19.

He also can’t get vaccinated because vaccines haven’t been approved for kids under 12 yet.

“Children are less of a risk, but when you add preexisting medical conditions into the mix, it just makes it worse,” Pyper said. “I just feel like families like ours weren’t considered.”

Pyper said she’s waiting to see what sort of safety plan her son’s schools puts together before deciding whether to send him back or switch to an online school.

Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, was the floor sponsor of the bill that prevents schools from requiring face coverings. Local health departments can still require them though, as long as the local legislative body — like a county commission — signs off.

“We want it to be consistent across the state — that anything related to the health issue comes through the governing body and the health department,” Vickers said.

Because the Utah Department of Health can’t recommend that schools require masks, they’re working on a new set of suggestions to help schools keep kids safe.

“One of those would be spacing,” said state epidemiologist Leisha Nolen. “As much as schools can, trying to keep kids as far away as possible and I know that's limited based on facilities.”

Nolen said the department will also be encouraging outdoor activities.

“Instead of having indoor gym, [being] outdoors is a good way to have less exposure,” she said.

The final set of suggestions from UDOH is expected to be released within the next week or so, according to Nolen.

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