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AM News Brief: Omicron variant spreads, new lawsuit targets mask mandate & study links teen suicide to discrimination

A young girl in a face mask.
Utah has joined a multi-state lawsuit that aims to block President Joe Biden’s mask mandate for toddlers at Head Start programs. This story and more in this morning's news brief.

Wednesday morning, Dec. 22, 2021


Experts say omicron is multiplying across the state

University of Utah health experts said the omicron variant is spreading rapidly in the state. Stephen Goldstein, a postdoctoral researcher at the U’s school of medicine, spoke during a press conference Tuesday. He said Intermountain Health figures showed about 30% of COVID-19 cases detected Monday were omicron — up from 6% Friday. He said it will be the dominant variant in the state by the end of the week, and even a mild wave could overwhelm hospitals. He expects there will be a lot of breakthrough cases in January, but “the more people who are vaccinated and the more people who are boosted, the less severe those infections are going to be.” He recommended that people who are unvaccinated or haven’t gotten a booster shot get tested before attending holiday celebrations. He also suggested everyone wear a mask when using ski trams and gondolas and while inside lodges. — Pamela McCall & Leah Treidler

Utah attorney general joins suit against Head Start mask mandate

Attorney General Sean Reyes has joined a multi-state lawsuit that aims to block President Joe Biden’s mask mandate for toddlers at Head Start programs. According to a statement issued Tuesday, the suit also targets Biden’s vaccine requirements for teachers, contractors and volunteers at the programs. Reyes said the mandate will force many employees to leave and disrupt child development, especially in low-income and rural areas. The 24-state lawsuit alleges that the mandate reaches beyond executive authority. The CDC recommends all students 2 years and older wear masks in school regardless of vaccination status. Experts say anyone over 5 should get a vaccine and booster if possible. The majority of Utah remains at a state of high transmission. — Leah Treidler

Follow KUER’s coverage of the coronavirus in Utah.

Southern Utah

San Juan County approves new redistricting map despite resident objections

The San Juan County Commission approved new redistricting maps Tuesday. The move came after maps were redrawn in 2017 following a voting rights lawsuit filed by the Navajo Nation. Elected officials approved the new maps in a 2-1 vote, with the two Native American commissioners voting in favor. The maps that were picked had the least amount of changes from the previous version. Commission Chair Willie Grayeyes said he voted in support of them to avoid future lawsuits, but residents and city officials from Blanding opposed the new boundaries. That’s because they split the city three ways. Cheryl Bowers, a council member there, said it would have been possible to keep the city and tribal chapters together with other proposed maps. Read the full story.Lexi Peery

Northern Utah

Study links discrimination to teen suicide

Teen suicide rates in the West are some of the highest in the nation. In Utah, 10-year-old Isabella “Izzy” Tichenor died by suicide in November, after reportedly being the subject of bullying and racism. That kind of harassment is a leading risk factor for suicide among adolescents. The effects of discrimination on young people’s mental health is the subject of a new study from the University of California, Los Angeles. It found a strong association between this kind of discrimination and mental health issues. — Robyn Vincent, Mountain West News Bureau

If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, there is help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is at 800-273-8255.

Salt Lake City airport forecasts big crowds this holiday season

The Salt Lake City airport will be bustling this holiday season. Officials expect around 25,000 passengers to depart each day from December 22-24. That’s up from between 11,000 and 17,000 per day during the 2020 holiday season. The airport requires travelers to wear masks at all times regardless of vaccination status. According to the CDC, Salt Lake County remains at a high level of transmission with nearly 7,000 cases in the past seven days. AAA reports that 6.4 million people will fly during the holidays throughout the United States. — Leah Treidler

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