New Summit County health order will require masks at elementary schools that hit a coronavirus threshold
Masks will be required if school has a 14-day COVID-19 positive case rate of 2% or greater
Summit County Health Director Phil Bondurant issued a public health order Saturday outlining circumstances that would trigger a mask mandate in elementary schools, a move that comes as county and Park City School District officials have faced mounting pressure to require masks for the new academic year.
The order stipulates that masks will be required in an elementary school if it has a 14-day COVID-19 positive case rate of 2% or greater among students, staff and faculty. The order, which is slated to go into effect Wednesday, applies to the four elementary schools in the Park City School District, as well as the elementary schools in the North Summit and South Summit school districts. Secondary schools are not included.
“We recognize there are very strong opinions on both sides of the mask discussion,” Bondurant said in a news release announcing the order. “Ultimately, I want to provide the safest, healthiest learning environment in Summit County schools for the upcoming school year while allowing for parental choice. Masks are not a failproof solution to eliminate COVID-19. However, it is well documented that masks are an effective strategy to minimize illness.”
A state law passed earlier this year forbids school districts from implementing mask mandates, leaving the authority instead to county officials. Summit County officials, however, previously said it was unclear whether they had the power under the law to enact a requirement.
The release indicated Bondurant, the Summit County Council and County Manager Tom Fisher reached the conclusion that Bondurant has the authority after consulting with the Utah State Board of Education.
The County Council supports the health order, Chair Glenn Wright said in the release.
“The Summit County Council is committed to taking any necessary action available to us within the confines of the law to proactively protect students this school year,” he said. “We support Dr. Bondurant’s approach and do not currently intend to consider termination of this Public Health Order. This course of action was taken after careful consideration of the county’s legal authorities and recent public input.”
The issue of masks in schools has been a divisive one throughout the pandemic, and the debate has intensified again in the weeks leading up to the new academic year. Support for masks appears to be more widespread in the left-leaning Park City area than on the East Side, which is predominantly conservative.
The leadership of the Park City Education Association, the largest union representing Park City School District teachers, recently appeared at a County Council meeting to urge the elected officials to issue a mask requirement for all schools in the district. They were joined by a group of parents, and many Park City parents have been outspoken on social media in favor of a mandate, though support for one seems to be far from unanimous.
Much of the discussion surrounding masks in schools has been driven by the emergence of the more-transmissible delta coronavirus variant. Case counts in Utah have surged in recent weeks, and health officials around the U.S. have reported a rise in the rates of children contracting the virus.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that students in grades K-12 wear masks.
The first day of class in the Park City School District is Monday.
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