Utah County Lawmakers Grill Health, Education Officials Over School Mask Mandate | News, Sports, Jobs

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Senator Jacob L. Anderegg listens to another Senator speak on the first day of the legislative session held at the Utah State Capitol on Monday, January 27, 2020, in Salt Lake City.

Isaac Hale, Special for the Standard Examiner

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Senator Jacob L. Anderegg listens to Senator Gregg D. Buxton speak on the first day of the legislative session held at the Utah State Capitol on Monday, January 27, 2020, in Salt Lake City.

Isaac Hale, Special for the Standard Examiner

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Republican Senator Provo Curt Bramble speaks on Tuesday, January 19, 2021, the first day of the 2021 General Session of the Utah State Legislature.

Photo provided, Utah State Senate

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Norm Thurston, R-Provo, chats with other officials before the start of the last day of the legislative session at the Utah State Capitol on Thursday, March 14, 2019, in Salt Lake City.

Evan Cobb, Special to Standard Examiner

Several Utah County lawmakers on Thursday criticized state health and education officials over the state-wide mask mandate for K-12 schools and urged officials to provide greater flexibility for local jurisdictions to move forward.

The term of school masks, implemented through a public health order from the Utah Department of Health, ends June 15. It is separate from the statewide mask mandate that ended on April 10 following a “final” bill passed by the Utah state legislature.

At a business rule review committee meeting on Thursday, lawmakers received an update on the school mask’s mandate and plan for the upcoming school year.

Sydnee Dickson, superintendent of public education for the Utah State Board of Education, said the mask’s mandate was implemented last year as cases rose statewide in an attempt to “seize focus on prevention “.

“We were trying to keep the schools from spreading,” Dickson said. “So we were trying to separate ourselves from what was going on in the community and make sure we had protocols to make it safe. “

Michelle Hofmann, deputy director of the state’s health department, said state officials needed to be able to “make policies in the face of certainty,” noting that “we didn’t have all the data by the time it started ”on transmission of the coronavirus.

“We have uncertainty. But we can use what we have to frame the conversations, ”said Hofmann, a pediatrician appointed deputy director of the health department in February.

Hofmann told committee lawmakers that “at this time we believe the masks will support us until the end of the school year” because Utah has yet to achieve “collective immunity” and children under 16 will not be eligible. for the vaccine until this summer.

“And so, at this time, we still have to protect the adults around us who have not yet had access to the vaccination,” she said. “And masks remain the most effective and least invasive way to do this. “

Hofmann’s comments were rebuffed by several lawmakers on the committee, including Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, who asked what would prevent an unvaccinated child from potentially contracting COVID-19 even after herd immunity is breached.

“The answer is nothing,” Bramble said. “This disease, this virus is going to be widespread in our communities in the long term. And all of these policies, we started out wanting to bend the curve so we could manage cases so that we didn’t overload our health care system, recognizing that even when we hit the definition of collective immunity, just like we did with flu and other illnesses you will always be exposed to and still be able to get and die from.

Hofmann said the senator was correct that there would always be a risk of contracting the coronavirus, “but the frequency with which it can happen now compared to when we achieve collective immunity is different.”

Bramble and Republican Highland Rep. Brady Brammer, co-chair of the committee, urged education and health officials to say if they were aware of an adult in the education system who had not yet had the possibility of getting vaccinated. Officials said they were not personally aware of these individuals.

“Because you talk about protecting the safety of adults. And my frustration is that if the vaccines are as effective as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the medical community have led us to believe, then adults who have been vaccinated are not at risk of spreading the virus, nor do they run a serious medical risk for having contracted a fatal incident with the virus, ”said Senator de Provo.

According to the CDC, a “growing body of evidence” suggests that fully vaccinated people are less likely to have asymptomatic infection and “potentially less likely” to pass the virus on to others, although “further investigation is in progress. Classes”.

Representative Norm Thurston, R-Provo, also expressed concern over the state-wide K-12 mandate, which he said lacked “flexibility” for local education agencies to accommodate students and the parents. He recommended that the state’s public health ordinance be amended to provide this flexibility.

Committee co-chair Senator Jacob Anderegg, R-Lehi, said he had no “problem” with masks in schools, noting that “if masks are helping slow the spread, it probably is an abundance of caution, the right thing to do. “

But Anderegg said he had a problem with how the mask’s mandate was implemented and argued state officials are only looking at the problem from a public health perspective without considering implications of the mandate for the economy, mental health and domestic violence.

“I have to look at several data points outside of public health (as a state legislator),” Anderegg said.

Anderegg added that he didn’t think the emergency measures amendments passed by lawmakers earlier this year with Senate Bill 195 went far enough to limit and define the state’s emergency powers during a public health crisis and said additional legislation may be needed.

“We need clear definitions of who is responsible for local control (issues) between the local health department, the state health department and school districts. I don’t think this was resolved under (SB) 195, ”Senator Lehi said.

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