SALT LAKE CITY — The state has revised its guidelines for back-to-school re-openings during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A new series of guidelines issued on Thursday morning modified the controversial "modified quarantine" provision. It allowed a student who was exposed to COVID-19 to continue to go to school, so long as they were not showing symptoms consistent with the virus.
A revised handbook issued Thursday scraps the term and instead advises isolation or quarantine if someone is exposed.
Utah's Department of Health has utilized "modified quarantine" for essential workers with success, said Dr. Angela Dunn, the state epidemiologist.
But the idea of using it in a school setting generated significant pushback. In an interview with FOX 13 on Tuesday, Lt. Governor Spencer Cox said the idea was getting re-worked.
"We are removing the recommendation that students and teachers be allowed to attend school while on quarantine. Instead, we recommend students and teachers perform standard quarantine procedures," Dr. Dunn said at a news conference on Thursday.
School re-opening plans have sparked protests and heated debate. Tami Pyfer, Gov. Herbert's education advisor, called on people to practice patience and "grace" as plans are formulated and school boards take input and viewpoints from a number of perspectives.
"This is hard. It’s incredibly hard work. As a community, we’re grappling with one of the most difficult situations that any one of us have faced. But we’re certain we can do this. We can choose how we respond and how these challenges shape us," she said.
Gov. Herbert acknowledged the strong feelings about schools re-opening. He insisted he has not mandated they re-open but left it to local school districts to decide how best to do it. He said steps were being taken to ensure that schools have adequate personal protective equipment for teachers, faculty, staff and anyone else that needs it. The state will sent shipments to local districts to ensure there's enough.
"We want them to be back in a classroom that is safe," he said.
Utah has seen its COVID-19 cases drop significantly in recent weeks. State health officials are cautiously optimistic that it could be a sign of a true decline.
"I appreciate the good effort. It’s helped us to turn the tide on the case rates. But I believe we can do better," the governor said, setting a goal of about 400 new cases by September 1. As of Thursday, Utah's rolling average was 449.
The state has seen cases decline, but also a drop in tests. Health care providers told FOX 13 earlier this week they simply weren't seeing people show up to seek tests, even with capacity.
Dr. Dunn urged anyone with even mild symptoms to seek a COVID-19 test. The governor and Dr. Dunn pushed back on claims that the state might be manipulating data or suppressing testing to present a rosier picture.
"Absolutely patently false there’s any manipulating of numbers," Gov. Herbert said.
Dr. Dunn agreed and said they still have capacity for more tests. What she's observed is testing has dropped to levels it was at before Utah saw a surge in June and July.
"It’s still a really good number of people being tested every day. So it’s lower than our peak but it’s still a good number moving forward. It does give us appropriate cautious optimism our numbers are declining," she said.