SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The COVID-19 pandemic continues to pose challenges as Utah kids go back to school.
Utah State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sydnee Dickson told state lawmakers that kids are pretty happy to be back in class. Teachers are also giving positive feedback.
Superintendent Dickson said one of the challenges is access to broadband, which can be spotty or non-existent in certain areas. Schools will also rely on broadband as a backup should they have to move classes back online.
“We have to look at broadband as an essential utility, just like electricity and water at this point,” Dickson said.
State epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn told the Education Interim Committee that schools should practice the same principles of mask-wearing, washing hands, deep cleaning, and social distancing to keep everyone safe from COVID-19.
When asked about the efficacy of masks, Dunn indicated the health department is putting together a resource for people to give them facts about face coverings and combat myths.
But she also admits there is not as much information on children wearing masks or COVID-19 transmission because they have been out of school for so long.
“We don’t even know how well kids can transmit it when they’re symptomatic, even less so when they’re asymptomatic. So, that’s why we’re really relying on the principles of physical distancing and mask-wearing to prevent any potential spread of COVID-19,” Dunn said.
Dunn said that even though it’s rare for a child to get a serious case of COVID-19, there are other health issues to look at.
“I think there is certainly a possibility that there are other effects we just don’t know about yet. And of course, we do know about MIS-C [Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children], which is a specific manifestation of COVID-19 in a pediatric population that does result in death.”
Dunn indicated how much misinformation is floating around, saying she gets comments claiming there are no issues with kids going back to school and, “I get another comment telling me that I am killing children by allowing them to go to school, neither of which are true.”
Another challenge the health department faces is how to test students for COVID-19.
Currently, they give families information on where they can get tested. However, the health department is still working on a testing strategy.
“As testing technology changes, as we hopefully get more rapid testing available, how are we going to implement those in the school setting?” Dunn said.
While some teachers are happy to be back to school, Utah Education Association President Heidi Matthews said there are still challenges getting teachers their personal protective equipment. She also said it was tough for some teachers to balance the extra workload of teaching on campus and making sure online students get their materials.
One bright spot in all the uncertainty is unemployment.
Utah School Superintendents Association Executive Director Lexi Cunningham said many people are interested in becoming substitute teachers, giving districts needed employees if a teacher has to quarantine.