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‘Definitely more vulnerable’: Utah health leaders discuss upcoming school year with unvaccinated children

Posted at 5:46 PM, Jul 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-20 19:54:39-04

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s public school year is set to begin next month, yet an official plan for COVID-19 guidelines has not been released yet.

Officials say the plan is in the works, however.

“There are a lot of different groups that are providing input on best practices and what we should, or can and cannot do given the current laws in our state,” said Jenny Johnson, a Utah Department of Health (UDOH) spokeswoman.

READ: Vaccinated teachers and students don't need masks inside schools, CDC says

Johnson says UDOH is working closely with the 13 local health departments, health officers, school districts, Utah State Board of Education, legislature, public health, infectious disease experts and more to come up with the best plan of action, Johnson said.

“The pandemic has changed a lot since the last school year. Last school year we did not have vaccines, we did not have some of the legal constraints that are facing now that could be tools to prevent spread. We didn’t have the Delta variant that is far more contagious,” she said.

READ: Delta variant causes case surge among unvaccinated Utahns

There is a lot of stress among teachers with so much uncertainty, according to a local teachers' union leader.

“There is a lot of apprehension, uncertainty among my constituents' teachers, faculty and staff in public ed,” said Brad Asay, the president of the American Federation of Teachers Utah.

Asay added that the increasing COVID-19 cases and the more aggressive Delta variant have many teachers concerned.

“They are wondering with the numbers increasing, with the new variants, are they going to have shutdowns again? Is the mask mandate — we don’t have a mask mandate — but will we have a mask mandate that will come back?” he said.

READ: 'Test to stay,' masks recommended for unvaccinated in Utah's COVID-19 back-to-school plans

But there will not be a mask mandate in schools, Johnson said.

“Gov. Cox does not support renewing a mask mandate for schools. Instead, he continues to urge all Utahns to get vaccinated, especially before the school year starts," Gov. Spencer Cox's communication director Jennifer Napier-Pearce said in a statement to FOX 13.

The Delta variant remains a concern, Johnson said.

“Kids are definitely more vulnerable this school year than last school year if they are not vaccinated. The Delta variant is far, far, far more contagious,” she said.

READ: Bill banning mask mandates in Utah schools advances on Capitol Hill

While there is a lot up in the air still, Johnson says everyone wants kids to be back in the classroom.

“All the players want kids in schools, so how do we do that as safely as we can while balancing the political constraints that we are under?” she said.

The lack of decisions and communication for teachers has many on edge, Asay said.

“We are pretty concerned of what’s this year is going to bring and what’s going to happen," he said.

The goal is to have a plan out in the next few weeks, Johnson said. There is still a lot to be decided.

“Our case counts are getting higher and it makes public health nervous for the start of school because we want to do everything we can to make sure we preserve in person learning but also make sure we protect the health of students and school staff,” she said.

For more information on the COVID-19 Vaccine, click here.