Summit County will not extend health orders mandating masks in schools that exceed COVID-19 case thresholds |

Summit County will not extend health orders mandating masks in schools that exceed COVID-19 case thresholds

Health director cites availability of vaccines for young children

The Summit County Health Department.
Park Record file photo

Summit County leaders do not intend to extend the public health orders that mandate masks when an elementary or middle school exceeds a threshold for COVID-19 cases, indicating Wednesday that the availability of vaccines for young children and low case counts in the community among the inoculated make the measure unnecessary.

The orders are slated to expire at the end of the year, meaning they won’t be in effect when students return to class following the winter break.

Summit County Health Director Phil Bondurant struck an optimistic tone Wednesday during a presentation to the County Council, saying the health situation is such that the county is in a position to loosen restrictions — though officials are prepared to react if case counts warrant ramping them back up.

According to data presented at the meeting, nearly half of children between the ages of 5 and 11 in Summit County have received at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 84% of all eligible residents are fully vaccinated.

“I can guarantee you if the nation or the globe reaches those numbers, there will be a much different conversation about COVID-19,” Bondurant said, referring to the percentage of eligible residents who have been inoculated.

The health orders, implemented at the start of the academic year in August, mandate masks at a school if more than 2% of its population — including both students and staff members — tests positive for COVID-19 within a 14-day window. Multiple schools in Summit County hit the threshold this fall.

A state-mandated testing program, called Test to Stay, remains in place. Under Test to Stay, a Summit County school that has 30 or more COVID-19 cases within a 14-day window must require students attending classes in person to be tested for the coronavirus.

The implementation of mask requirements in schools has been controversial in Summit County, as it has in many places across the country. Some parents criticized the health order for not going far enough, saying that a blanket mask mandate — regardless of case numbers — would have been appropriate. Others questioned the need for any form of requirement, arguing that mandates infringe on students’ rights and that children who get the coronavirus have a low risk of serious health complications.

Masks were required in public schools throughout Utah during the 2020-2021 academic year. When classes resume after the winter break, it will be the first extended period that no health order regarding masks in schools will be in effect since before the pandemic struck Summit County in March 2020.

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