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Utah County masks, Dave & Dujanovic: Should kids return to school or learn online 2.0?
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Dave & Dujanovic: Should kids return to school or learn online 2.0?

Angry residents react when the Utah County Commission meeting was adjourned before it even started, Wednesday, July 15, 2020, in Provo, Utah. The group protesting against face masks being required in schools removed the social distancing tape on the chairs and filled the Utah County Commission room to overflowing, prompting Commissioner Tanner Ainge to call for a vote to adjourn the meeting. (Rick Egan/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP)

SALT LAKE CITY —  Parents everywhere want to know: 1) Is it safe for my child to return to school or learn online? And 2) How do I know?

Dr. Eddie Stenehjem, an infectious disease specialist with Intermountain Healthcare, talks with Dave Noriega and Debbie Dujanovic about sending kids back to school during the global pandemic

Stenehjem said there are three factors to evaluate: community, school and home.

“What is our level of community-based spread? Have we controlled the virus in our community? If the answer to that is yes, then we can start talking about getting kids back in school safely,” said Stenehjem. “If the answer to that is no, then going back to school poses a big risk” —  to teachers and staff.

“What is the school doing to prevent transmission? Stenehjem asked. “What is the school doing to decrease class size, to increase physical distancing? To encourage and make sure kids and teachers are wearing masks?”

“And third, what is your risk [of infection] at home? Do the children’s parents have chronic medical conditions that if they got sick with coronavirus, they’re going to have bad outcomes? Maybe the children live with their grandparents,” Stenehjem said.

Numbers to watch

“Is there a number with that community spread?” Dave asked. “I’m struggling with all the numbers that are out there.”

Stenehjem said the state Health Department is shooting for under 10 cases/ 100,000 population/ day. Also, the state is targeting a test positivity rate under 5 percent.

“And we’re still at 10 percent in our communities,” he said.

Masks and student separation

“Is there any school plan you like the best? It’s OK if your answer is what my answer was: I’d keep my kids at home and online school them,” said Debbie.

Assuming the two numbers above have been reached, he asked: How confident are you that your school plan has students spread out and able to wear masks.

If those two conditions are met, then you can feel more comfortable, he said. But, if not, perhaps you should choose remote learning for your child.

He said every student and teacher needs to wear a mask in school, but if one person doesn’t because of a physical or mental health reason, the school environment is likely still safe.

“But if you have more and more kids not wearing a mask, then you are risk goes up and up,” he said.

“I saw a KSL television report yesterday, Dr. Stenehjem, that showed desks were only 3 feet apart at one elementary school, and that’s how they are going to situate the kids, at least for the start of schools. How comfortable are you with only 3 feet apart?” asked Debbie.

Ideally, he said, 6 feet is the standard based on science. But if everyone is wearing a mask and wearing it well, then maybe “3, 4, 5 feet would be OK.”

“Utah is known for its large class sizes. We’re really going to have to focus on how do you get those kids spread out in the classroom,” Stenehjem said.

Children and COVID-19

“What do we know about coronavirus in kids?” Dave asked.

“Coronavirus can infect anyone at any age. However, kids are much less likely to have severe complications when compared to adults,” Stenehjem said.

He added that the group that has seen the largest increase in cases in Utah are young adults age 15 to 24.

“More data is coming out that show adolescents really act like adults when it comes to this type of infection in terms of likelihood to get infected and likelihood to transmit the disease,” Stenehjem said.

He added that data show children younger than 10 are less likely to get infected and less likely to transmit. He said the symptoms are less severe in children because they tend to be healthier.

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app, a.s well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play


Related Links:

New poll asks Utahns about school re-opening, mask mandate

Utah’s 41 school districts unveil reopening plans for fall

Davis School District sticks with hybrid back to school schedule