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New Air Guidelines Could Mean More Indoor Recess For Utah Students

Lee Hale
With Salt Lake County air quality in the "orange" level, elementary students with sensitivities like asthma will spend recess indoors.

Elementary School administrators are keeping a close eye on Salt Lake County’s air quality this week. New and slightly stricter guidelines from the Utah Department of Health could mean a little less recess time this winter.

The Utah recess guidelines state clearly when students should stay indoors during recess because of bad air. It all comes down to particulate matter levels or PM 2.5.


Brittany Guerra of the Utah Asthma Program says schools used to let kids play outside with levels up to 90. “It’s now lowered to 55.4 which is right when the red starts," she says.


If the air quality is red or purple, all students stay inside.


“But in the past five years we haven’t had a lot of days in the red or purple," says Guerra.


The new guidelines might mean two more indoor days compared to an average school year.


Principals like Michael Douglas at Howard Driggs Elementary in Holladay are prepared. Each morning and night Douglas checks a Utah Air app on his phone.


Orange days are usually more frequent than red days. And on orange days the recess guidelines says students with sensitivities like asthma should stay inside.


Douglas says his students have been understanding, no tantrums yet. Although he wouldn’t wish indoor recess on anyone.


“It’s not popular with the students and it's not popular with the teachers," Douglas says. "But when it comes to a kiddo who’s got health issues that takes precedence.”


Salt Lake’s air quality is expected to improve by the end of the week. Forecasted storms could bring current orange levels to green by Friday.



Lee Hale began listening to KUER while he was teaching English at a Middle School in West Jordan (his one hour commute made for plenty of listening time). Inspired by what he heard he applied for the Kroc Fellowship at NPR headquarters in DC and to his surprise, he got it. Since then he has reported on topics ranging from TSA PreCheck to micro apartments in overcrowded cities to the various ways zoo animals stay cool in the summer heat. But, his primary focus has always been education and he returns to Utah to cover the same schools he was teaching in not long ago. Lee is a graduate of Brigham Young University and is also fascinated with the way religion intersects with the culture and communities of the Beehive State. He hopes to tell stories that accurately reflect the beliefs that Utahns hold dear.
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