Utah no longer recommends modified quarantine in schools
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah will no longer recommend that schools allow students who have been exposed to COVID-19 to come to class following pushback from doctors and educators, state officials said Thursday.
The state issued a new recommendation Thursday that any student or teacher who has come into close contact with a confirmed case should quarantine at home for 14 days.
The change in guidelines comes one week after Gov. Gary Herbert and health officials announced a modified quarantine option for exposed students who don’t have symptoms to attend school if they wear a mask and practice social distancing.
“We got a lot of feedback from stakeholders that weren’t comfortable with that, and so we are willing to adjust and provide a more strict recommendation,” state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn told reporters.
Herbert also announced that the process for implementing mask mandates on the local level will be further streamlined and no longer require state approval. The Republican governor said more people have been wearing masks voluntarily, but he would still consider a statewide mandate if Utah experiences another a spike in cases.
Mandatory mask orders are currently in place in Salt Lake, Summit and Grand counties, as well as the cities of Logan and Springdale.
Last week, Utah reached a goal Herbert set to get the state’s rolling weekly average to 500 new cases a day by Aug. 1. Herbert on Thursday urged Utah residents to continue social distancing and wearing face coverings to reach a new goal of 400 new cases a day by Sept. 1. The state had a weekly average of 449 cases on Thursday.
“I appreciate the good effort,” Herbert said. “It’s helped us turn the tide on the case rates. But I believe we actually can do better, and we need to do better.”
Dunn said she’s feeling “cautiously optimistic” about the recent decline in new cases, but she noted the entire state has been experiencing a simultaneous drop-off in testing demand. She added that health officials aren’t exactly sure what is causing the drop in demand, but she said anyone who is a close contact of a confirmed case should get tested to prevent the spread of the virus.
Herbert also urged people to continue working together and not be distracted by “the shrill voices” who criticize virus-related restrictions and claim that COVID-19 is a hoax. Herbert’s comments come after several hundred people held an anti-mask protest in Utah County on Wednesday, arguing that mask mandates curtail civil liberties.
More than 42,000 cases of the virus have been reported in Utah, and 330 people have died, according to state data. The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested. Studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
Sophia Eppolito is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.