Utah Not Doing Enough to Make Schools Safe

Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment is calling for a delay in opening up Utah’s public schools until safety protocols can be put into place. Without safeguards in place, having children return back to school is a dangerous push that could have devastating results. Unfortunately, the more research done on COVID-19, we find that, though children and teenagers are at a lower risk of developing serious illness from the virus, they can spread the virus just as adults can.

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A group of local physicians is calling on leaders to delay the reopening of schools in Utah amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, a group that works to protect the health and well-being of Utahns by promoting science, backed the Utah Education Association’s call to protect students, teachers and faculty.

The group states that even though science indicates, at this point in time, that children are at lower risk to become seriously ill, they can still spread COVID-19 to adults.

“While the research that enlightens us about how the virus is spread is still evolving, it appears that children and teenagers older than ten years old are as likely to spread the virus as adults, even if they are at much lower risk for a serious outcome,” UPHE stated in a news release.

A group of local physicians is calling on leaders to delay the reopening of schools in Utah amid the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo: KUTV)

UPHE claims reopening schools will lead to increased cases in the community, unless detailed and strict plans are put in place.

“We have seen that premature opening of the economy in many states has only served to create crisis level spread. There is every reason to assume that opening up schools in the setting of persistently high rates of infection will do the same.”

The group warned that if teachers do not feel safe, they may not go to work, which will lead to larger class sizes and “an even more dangerous work environment.”

“A core tenet of infectious disease management is: a pandemic anywhere means a pandemic everywhere. That’s why opening up schools without statewide, consistent, careful, and extensive precautions not only threaten teachers and staff, but is likely to ignite a new wave of infection throughout the entire community,” Dr. Brian Moench, UPHE president, stated in a press release.

UPHE recommended the following guidelines to help schools reopen safely:

1) Mandatory masks for all students, teachers, and employees, in addition to face shields for employees that interact with students.

2) Increase outdoor air ventilation. Open windows for all classrooms where possible, outside classes where possible, especially music and physical education.

3) Filter indoor air. Stand alone air purifiers should be supplied for every classroom.

4) Class size limitation and desk positioning consistent with appropriate social distancing.

5) Adequate supply of hand and surface disinfectants. Strict policy of hand hygiene performed repeatedly in all classes.

6) Sports and activities that require close proximity to other students, like football, soccer, wrestling, basketball, choir and dance should be temporarily suspended.

UEA President Heidi Matthews pushed for schools to delay their reopenings scheduled for August to help stop the spread of COVID-19 and keep people safe.

(Photo: KUTV)

“Up until now, Utah has faced a choice between two bad options — either return to in-person learning and put our students, educators and communities at risk or temporarily return to a distance learning and virtual instruction model,” Matthews said.

“Given the state’s rising number of positive coronavirus cases, this is no longer a choice. We simply cannot unnecessarily risk lives by opening schools too soon.”

The recommendations have been met with both criticism and support by teachers, faculty, students and parents.

So far, Jordan School District and Iron County have delayed their reopening dates. Classes in Iron County will begin on Aug. 25 and students in the Jordan district will return on Aug. 24.

Utah school districts are nearing their deadline of Aug. 1 for releasing plans for the upcoming school year. They include a mixture of online and in-person classes, more cleaning and mask requirements. You can read the plans here.