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PM News Brief: Salt Lake Mask Mandate, Kolob Canyon Reopens & Class During COVID

Photo of school hallway with lockers.
Renee Bright/KUER
Many public schools in Utah are now open for the first time since March. That story and more in this evening’s news brief. ";

Wednesday evening, August 19, 2020

STATE

Bill Could Change Requirements Needed To Lead State Health Department

The Utah State Legislature is considering a bill this week to allow the deputy director of the state’s Department of Health to have minimal experience in public health. Right now, if the head of the department is not a physician, the deputy director has to be one. This bill would create a chief medical advisor, who has to be licensed to practice medicine in Utah. It would also require the deputy director to have at least five years of experience in public health and to have completed one year in a graduate public health program, even though most Masters of Public Health programs are two years long. Read the full story. — Sonja Hutson

So What Happens If Students Or Teachers Contract COVID?

With many public schools in Utah now open, health and education officials briefed lawmakers Wednesday on some keys for keeping buildings that way. State epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn said if three cases are linked to a classroom, the health department recommends the class go online for two weeks. And if 15 people in a school or 10% of the population catch the virus — whichever is lower — the entire school should go online for two weeks. She said the purpose of this is to break the transmission of COVID-19 before it gets out of control. Dunn says evidence from other countries has shown that school outbreaks can and will spread to the community and eventually reach the most vulnerable populations. — Jon Reed

Utah COVID Update

The Utah Department of Health reported 364 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday. But eight more people died due to the disease. All of them were either long-term care facility residents or had been hospitalized either prior to or at the time of their death. Six were older than 65 and two were between the ages of 45 and 64. Over the past few weeks there has been a downward trend in the number of new daily cases, but the percent of tests coming back positive is still around 9%. More than 610,000 Utahns have now been tested for the disease. — Caroline Ballard

Follow KUER’s coverage of the coronavirus in Utah.

New Fire Starts Every Day For The Past Four Months

Over the past week, 50 wildfires have started across Utah. That’s according to the latest data from the Division of Forestry, Fires and State Lands. There has been at least one new start everyday for the past four months, and there are currently five fires burning that are larger than 100 acres. Humans are in large part to blame for the active season, as more than 800 fires have been started by people. That’s nearly twice the wildfires people started last year. As of Aug. 16, 188,000 acres in Utah have been scorched by wildfire. — Ross Terrell

Follow KUER’s coverage of Utah’s 2020 Fire Season.

NORTHERN UTAH

Salt Lake County Mask Mandate Extended ‘Til The End Of The Year

Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson announced Wednesday that she’ll extend the county’s mask order until the end of the year. The county implemented a mandate at the end of June. It requires everyone in Salt Lake County to wear a mask in public spaces where social distancing isn’t possible. Wilson said that has led to a drop in cases, but until there’s a vaccine, “we need to continue to battle COVID-19.” While there’s no statewide mandate, Summit and Grand Counties, as well as Springdale and Logan, also require masks in public. — Emily Means

Property Tax Relief Deadline Is Swiftly Approaching

The deadline to apply for property tax relief in Salt Lake County is Sept. 1. County officials are reminding people to apply if they are eligible. To qualify, you have to be either a military veteran, legally blind in both eyes, over the age of 66 with a household income under about $34,000 dollars or experiencing hardship. Starting Monday, the county treasurer’s office will also be offering in-person help to residents, but masks are required and social distancing will be enforced. — Ross Terrell

SOUTHERN UTAH

Kolob Canyon Has Reopened

Kolob Canyons, Zion National Park’s west entrance, reopened Wednesday for the first time since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. That part of the park was closed, even though the main canyon opened in mid-May, because there wasn’tweren’t enough staff available to maintain the visitor restrooms. But last week, the Washington County Commission diverted federal COVID-19 relief funds to contract with a private cleaning company. County officials also helped reopen Zion’s South Campground this week under a similar agreement. — Lexi Peery, St. George

REGION/NATION

Outdoor School As A Solution To In Person Pandemic Teaching

As schools across our region continue to weigh how or if to hold in person class, there’s one option that’s not really being talked about: moving classrooms outdoors. There’s broad consensus you’re significantly less likely to catch the virus outdoors, and there’s evidence that outdoor learning improves test scores, well-being and cognitive development. Last week, a STEM-focused charter school in the Salt Lake City district unveiled 10 outdoor classrooms. The Salt Lake City Center for Science Education says their outdoor spaces will accommodate anywhere from eight to 30 students. — Amanda Peacher, Mountain West News Bureau

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