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Gov. Cox Supports ‘Encouragement’ Of Unvaccinated Students To Mask Up

Aug 3, 2021, 12:51 PM | Updated: 6:26 pm

MIDVALE, Utah — As some school districts in Utah near the first week of the 2021-22 school year, the debate about masks is lingering as Utah’s recent rise in COVID-19 cases has some hospitals filling up ICUs.

The latest recommendation from the Utah Department of Health is students age 12 and older should get vaccinated and students should wear masks when indoors.

Gov. Spencer Cox said he supports encouraging people who are not vaccinated to wear masks in schools, adding that encouraging is different than a mandate.

“The recommendation is if you’re not unvaccinated, you should wear a mask,” Cox said at a press conference Tuesday. “We support encouraging people to wear masks in school. That is different than a mandate.”

Cox doesn’t have the executive power to create a mandate after the Utah Legislature passed HB294 in March. He made it clear he believes Utahns need to get vaccinated, and frankly, he’s tired of wearing a mask for those “who don’t seem to care.”

“I’ve got to be honest with you, I don’t know if I’m one of those people,” Cox said. “I’m really tired. I’m really done with it. And I’m not real excited to have to sacrifice to protect someone who doesn’t seem to care. But I’m glad there are some people willing to do that. Thank you.”

While talking about children wearing masks though, Cox pointed out it has challenged younger elementary students in ways we may not have initially thought.

“Every single kindergarten and first-grade teacher I have talked to will tell you there is an impact on the development of young children by wearing masks in schools,” Cox said. “Their ability to read, their verbal and cognitive skills were slowed down by wearing the masks. Even CDC guidelines last year said there should be exceptions made.”

Cox said he has a concern about students getting sick in schools and taking the virus home to unvaccinated family members.
However, he said it should be a decision that families think about because for younger students, it’s “not a transaction without consequences.”

“Families and parents are going to have to weigh their decisions,” Cox said.

It’s not in Cox’s hands to determine who wears masks after the state’s mask mandate ended — that now falls to local governments and health departments.

Parents and school staff who have questions about how COVID-19 will be handled in their school or at extracurricular activities should contact their local health department or school for more information.

Cox also said he has directed his team to obtain an N95 mask for each Utah student age 11 and under.

School Districts Working With Local Health Depts. To Create New Guidelines

Under the recommendations, local health departments will work with schools within their jurisdiction to review the state’s recommendations and then create prevention strategies for their area.

“School administrators will watch the data on what is happening in their local areas as they work to keep children in schools as safely as possible,” said the K-12 recommendations.

On Tuesday, officials with the Washington County School District said they were working closely with the Southwest Utah Public Health Department and had formulated guidelines for the upcoming school year, which starts Aug. 12.

“For the 2021-22 school year, masks will not be required. Students and staff will be welcome to wear masks if they choose, but they will not be required,” the district said. “Bullying standards will be strictly enforced as students and parents choose whether or not to wear masks at school.”

A spokesperson for the district said that there was frustration last year about the lack of local control over COVID-19 guidelines.

“If you’re going to say local control, provide us local control,” said Steven Dunham, director of communications for the Washington County School District. “That way we’re not the middle man in here and we can just own what decisions we’re going to make.”

Dunham said masks will just be an option in his district, while in the Salt Lake City School District, masks will be strongly recommended.

“If you are planning to be inside a school building this year in the Salt Lake City School District, we strongly recommend that you wear a mask while you’re inside,” said Yándary Chatwin, executive director of communications for the Salt Lake City School District. “If you don’t have one we will provide one for you.”

Chatwin said the mask recommendation applies to employees, teachers, students and visitors — regardless of vaccination status.

“We don’t want this to become a battle of who’s vaccinated and who’s not,” Chatwin said. “So the blanket recommendation for everybody to mask is an attempt to, again, follow the science, but also to make sure we aren’t getting into those personal attacks inside our school buildings.”

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Gov. Cox Supports ‘Encouragement’ Of Unvaccinated Students To Mask Up