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FOX 13 News 360: Utah's evolving COVID-19 school guidelines

Posted at 9:43 PM, Jan 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-10 23:43:56-05

SALT LAKE CITY — Guidelines from health experts and public health officials seem to have evolved over the course of the coronavirus pandemic.

"It's just been really difficult to know what's going to happen," Fawntell Mogle told FOX 13s Amy Nay, "We're just constantly checking emails to see what's changed with his game, if spectators can come and if ballgames are even going to happen at all!"

Mogle's son Creed plays basketball for Gunnison Valley High School, where they have had to be flexible when it comes to scheduling, attendance, protocols and more. Right now, student athletes have to take COVID-19 tests before school every other Monday and test negative in order to play, and masks must be worn at all times, with the only exception when in a game or in 5-on-5 scrimmages during practice.

"It's just become a part of life," Creed said about the changing guidelines, "And you just expect to do those things. Hopefully just gradually keeps getting better and feeling more normal in that way and get back to, I can't call it normal, because nothing's really normal now, but a better life, I guess," adding he's just grateful they're still able to play. Last Spring the now Junior was playing baseball when after the season's first game, everything was called off.

The Creed's spoke to FOX 13 just minutes after an exciting win for Gunnison Valley High School in a close contest against Enterprise. It was the team's third game that week, one added just hours ahead of time as coaches try to reschedule recent cancellations due to COVID-19 cases and quarantines.

State epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dun spoke to FOX 13 about the challenges her department is facing in this pandemic when it comes to getting the most up to date information out to the public about a virus we keep learning more and more about.

"I mean that's definitely the biggest challenge," Dr. Dunn said, "As a public health practitioner, I rely on a trusting relationship between the public health and the public. And when the science is changing, at the beginning that seemed like every single day, it's hard to maintain that sense of trust."

She said we should look at the evolving guidelines as a good thing, because it means we are learning more about how to stop the spread, "We have to remember that this virus has only been in existence for one year. We have made incredible strides in our knowledge and prevention against this virus. So it's expected that things are going to change because we're learning so much so quickly."

She says her office, the Utah Department of Health, has been working closely with schools and athletics to ensure they're proceeding as safely as possible.

She says while initial focus may have been on surfaces and handwashing, they are now emphasizing the effectiveness of mask wearing, particularly in a school setting, "From the beginning, there's always been this unknown. Can kids get it and how much can they get it. And can they transmit it. And what we're learning from our school settings is that when all the students and teachers are wearing mask, there's not a lot of COVID-19 spread."

Granite School District Spokesman Ben Horsley told FOX 13 News they are finding that same thing.

"When they are following the guidelines on school property, we are seeing COVID-19 spread at less than 2-percent. Kids are coming together on school property. They're staying safe, they're wearing masks, and then those same groups of kids will go home and still participate in other activities, social, family and mainly perhaps be a little more relaxed in that guidance and mask wearing and that's where we're seeing the spread," Horsely said, "Over 82-percent right now of cases are being spread in the home, in family and social circumstances."

As students returned to the class at the beginning of the year, there were new quarantine guidelines in place that no longer required a quarantine of 2 weeks if a student was exposed to an infected student and both were wearing masks.

"We feel comfortable with these modifications. They seem based in logic and reason, and they help us keep kids in school which is where they need to be," Horsely said, adding these decisions to change policy have been driven by data the health department has analyzed looking at cases in the schools over the past few months.

Some teachers expressed frustration at the adjustments amid the state's largest surge in new cases so far in the pandemic.

"This is still going to be evolving over even the next couple years," Dr. Dunn said about the ever-changing guidelines, "The one thing that has been consistent throughout this is change. And that will continue especially during the vaccine rollout."

She asked the public to remain patient and stay vigilant with mask wearing, social distancing and staying home when sick until we start seeing an impact from vaccination, which she says most likely won't be until this fall.

"I know we've been asking so much, but the end is in sight. So that's a good thing. But it's not next month or the next couple months. We have several, several months left to go."