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UDOH Releases New COVID-19 Recommendations For K-12 Schools

SALT LAKE CITY — Weeks out from the start of the 2021-2022 school year, the Utah Department of Health has released a list of 10 recommendations to keep students and staff safe and to minimize the amount of disruptions to the school year.

“We strongly recommend local health departments and schools use a layered prevention approach, including encouraging vaccination and mask wearing, among other strategies,” said Dr. Michelle Hofmann, deputy director for UDOH. “Doing so can help minimize the disruptions of COVID-19 on schools while maximizing opportunities for children to participate in in-person learning and extracurricular activities.”

The recommendations come about a week after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidelines, saying people should wear masks indoors, regardless of their vaccination status.

The UDOH recommendations for K-12 schools are as follows:

  • Encouraging everyone 12 years and older to get vaccinated for COVID-19
  • Wearing a mask when indoors
  • Isolating at home if you test positive for COVID-19
  • Quarantine and other protective measures after a school exposure
  • Testing for COVID-19
  • Staying home when you’re sick
  • Physical distancing and cohorting
  • Improving or increasing indoor ventilation
  • Hygiene practices
  • Cleaning and disinfection

“I think a lot of us felt like school might feel a lot more normal this year,” said UDOH spokesperson Jenny Johnson. “We’re now grappling with: school might not always feel as normal this year as we had hoped and thought.”

Johnson said getting the vaccine especially, “minimizes those disruptions that we saw last year that nobody wants to go through again.”

She said people who get the vaccine won’t be required to quarantine if they are exposed to COVID-19.

Decisions about how to handle exposure to COVID will now be left up to local health departments and school districts, according to local data.

“We have a way, especially for kids in junior highs and high schools, to not have their lives disrupted by COVID and that’s vaccinations,” said Johnson.

Dr. Leisha Nolen, the state epidemiologist, encouraged all Utahns, not just children, to get vaccinated.

“Vaccination is the best way to keep our children safe and healthy in school and free from the disruptions to their learning and extracurricular activities that Utah experienced last school year,” she said.

She went on to say, “I strongly encourage parents to consider having their children wear masks in school because Utah is experiencing high transmission levels of COVID-19. Many of our school-aged children are unable to be vaccinated at this time and masks are the next best protection.”

Johnson said we’re probably going to see a lot of variability across the state when it comes to implementing these recommendations.

“One district may be doing something totally different than a neighboring school district… and that’s okay. They’re addressing this based on local needs,” she said.

But local health departments and school districts are limited, to an extent, in how they can respond. State law, for example, requires all schools to have at least four days of in-person instruction per week.

“The biggest thing that I hear is anxiety and unease, given that circumstances are really different this year with the Delta variant,” said Heidi Matthews, president of the Utah Education Association.

Matthews wants to make sure decisions are based on science, not politics.

“We are worried about the lack of clarity, of direction that we are getting from local districts, from state officials,” she said. “Clock’s ticking. School is starting soon, and we need to be able to know that the recommendations of the medical experts are not impeded by any legislation.”

UDOH officials said the recommendations were developed with input from stakeholders, including local health officials, health officers, the Utah Education Association, as well as parents, elected officials and the Governor’s Office.

The full recommendations can be found on the health department’s coronavirus website.

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