Salt Lake Co. Council Votes Down K-6 Mask Mandate

Aug 12, 2021, 2:30 PM | Updated: Aug 13, 2021, 10:35 am

SALT LAKE CITY — The Salt Lake County Council voted to overturn a mask requirement for K-6 students on Thursday.

The council voted 6-3, along party lines, to override the public health order of constraint that would have mandated face coverings for K-6 students in public, charter and private schools in the county.

Overriding the order only required a simple majority of the council, which is currently composed of six Republicans and three Democrats.

After the vote, a largely unmasked crowd erupted in cheers, followed by chants of “USA! USA! USA!”

Dr. Angela Dunn, executive director of the Salt Lake County Health Department thanked the council for its quick decision and said she is committed to continuing to work collaboratively with the council and other stakeholders to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The science is clear: Vaccination is the most effective way to prevent COVID-19,” Dunn said in a statement. “If you are not vaccinated, wearing a mask is safe and the second-best way to protect yourself and those around you. I chose to issue a mask order because the delta variant is a serious threat to children and our current transmission rates require a strong intervention—one proven effective last school year. Though the order will not stand, I’m optimistic that issuing it clearly signaled my level of concern as a medical professional, and that it will help more parents choose to send their children to school in masks.

“I encourage parents and teachers to be good role models for children by following health recommendations to wear a mask when indoors in public, offering positive reinforcement to children, and helping ensure our community dialogue on this and related issues remains kind and respectful.”

Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson also issued a response to the vote: “Today was not the county council Republicans’ finest hour. Against the recommendation of medical experts, and those working diligently to control the spread of COVID-19, they chose to overturn a well-thought-out health policy moved by Salt Lake County Health Department Director Dr. Angela Dunn.

“Salt Lake County invests in and trusts its experts. Unfortunately, the guidance provided by Dr. Dunn was overturned by those swept up in emotion and unproven theories instead of believing well-founded medical data surrounding COVID-19.

“Going into the school year next week, my greatest hope is that parents will recognize the severe risk COVID-19 presents and choose to send their children to school in masks. Regardless, I want our kids to enter the school year with minimal conflict and disruption. It’s up to the adults to make that happen.”

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said her city is evaluating its options following the county council’s vote.

“By ignoring science and Dr. Dunn’s expertise, the county council’s vote makes our community less safe and puts our children at risk,” Mendenhall tweeted. “As a @slcschools parent, I’m concerned for my kids and as mayor, I worry for every child walking into school on 8/24. #SLC is evaluating its options.”

Before the vote, councilmember Jim Bradley, a Democrat, motioned to revisit the issue in approximately a month, saying the delta variant is a different virus than what the county saw this time last fall.

The council voted it down 6-3, along party lines.

Dunn issued the public health order of constraint on Wednesday.

“The best way that I can articulate the gravity of this situation, and what I see as the best way forward for Salt Lake County, and to keep our kids safe and in-person learning, is to officially notify Mayor Wilson of my intent to issue a mask order for school children under the age of 12 years in Salt Lake County,” Dunn said Tuesday.

Under SB 195, the law passed by the Utah Legislature earlier this year, a health department must give 24 hours notice to a top executive, which in this case was Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson.

Wilson expressed her support for the mandate on Tuesday.

Dozens of parents and supporters from both sides of the issue filled the Salt Lake County Council chambers ahead of Thursday’s vote.

Salt Lake County Council Chair Steve DeBry, a Republican, called Thursday’s special council meeting to vote on a resolution to terminate Dunn’s order.

DeBry said he wants to leave the decision about mask-wearing for young children up to their parents.

“I don’t think there’s enough efficacy in those little kids wearing the masks to even move the needle very much as far as the protection it’s going to give them,” he said. “The way we’re going to get out of this is for adults to get vaccinated.”

Councilmember Bradley told KSL TV he will vote to keep the mask requirement in place.

“I see no downside, other than maybe an inconvenience with children having to wear a mask for 30 days in school, to not at least attempt to see if that approach works,” Bradley said.

Bradley said he agrees with Dunn’s order as a way to protect children too young to be eligible for the vaccine.

“You cannot just ignore science,” Bradley said. “You cannot ignore the data and when all things are said and done we are talking about our children. How much do you want to risk that you’re right or wrong on whatever your thought is on masks?”

Pediatrician Expresses Concern Over Delta Variant

Before the council’s meeting Thursday, Dr. Andrew Pavia, chief of the division of pediatric infectious diseases at University of Utah Health and director of hospital epidemiology at Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital, expressed concern about the current COVID-19 delta variant, which is hitting children more often and harder than previous COVID variants.

Pavia said he had hoped political leaders would follow the advice of scientific experts, like that of Dr. Dunn.

“I think it would be a terrible mistake,” he said, referring to the council’s vote to override the mask mandate for K-6 students. “I think they don’t understand the risk to children. They may not understand the science behind mask use. I think the important principle here is that we really want to follow the science and leave scientific decisions in the hands of people who have our kids’ best interests at heart, and who are not subject to the political winds that affect politicians.”

He said he believes it is essential to allow masks in schools, at least until a vaccine is available for those 12 and younger.

Pavia also said doctors and public health officials take responsibility for trying to protect children’s health, but if politicians and leaders overturn those recommendations, they have to realize it’s their responsibility if a child gets severely ill or dies.

“They should think very long and hard about that,” Pavia said.

First Presidency Urges Latter-day Saints To Get Vaccinated, Wear Masks

The First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a statement urging members to get vaccinated and wear face coverings as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations surge nationwide due to the delta variant.

“To limit exposure to these viruses, we urge the use of face masks in public meetings whenever social distancing is not possible. To provide personal protection from such severe infections, we urge individuals to be vaccinated. Available vaccines have proven to be both safe and effective,” part of the statement read.

Read the full statement here.

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Salt Lake Co. Council Votes Down K-6 Mask Mandate