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Utah’s Statewide School Mask Mandate Will End During the Last Week Of The Academic Year

A photo fo Gov. Spencer Cox at the covid briefing.
Laura Seitz
Deseret News
Gov. Spencer Cox spoke at the weekly COVID-19 briefing Thursday where he announced the end of Utah’s school mask mandate.

Schools in Utah will not be required to have a mask mandate in place during the last week of the academic year, Gov. Spencer Cox announced Thursday.

But if they choose, individual schools can still institute their own mandates. Cox said lifting the requirement is the right thing to do.

“We've had cases dropping in many, many of our school districts,” Cox said. “We have many schools where there have been no positive cases now for several weeks and we've been able to vaccinate teachers.”

COVID-19 infections in 5-10 year olds are about one-tenth the amount they were during the January peak, according to numbers from the Utah Department of Health. For 11-13 year olds that number is one-sixth.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Wednesday the Pfizer vaccine is safe and effective for 12 to 15-year-olds.

“I think about kids in elementary school that haven't been able to see their teacher’s face and their friends' faces,” Cox said. “That stuff matters. It's really important.”

The governor has been under pressure from some Republicans to lift the mask mandate in school, especially after the statewide mandate expired on April 10.

He said he chose only to lift the requirement for the last week as a compromise between parents who wanted it gone immediately and those who wanted it to stay.

“If there are families who feel that is a situation where they don't want their kids to be, [during] the last week of school there's less going on,” Cox said. “Most of the testing is done and most of the rigorous academics is done that last week.”

But Ashley Weitz, who has a high-risk 7-year-old doing remote learning in Salt Lake City, said she now doesn’t feel comfortable sending her child to a school field day on the last day of class.

“That's hard,” she said. “They've missed out on so much this year … Vaccinations are going well, but until these younger kids at increased risk have access to those vaccinations — nothing has changed for our family.”

The week-long average for new daily cases is 328 — about the same rate the state saw in mid-June 2020. Nearly 46% of Utahns over the age of 16 are fully vaccinated.

Sonja Hutson is a politics and government reporter at KUER.
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