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Dr Andy Pavia
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Dr. Andy Pavia: Sending kids to school without masks would be a “terrible mistake.”

Dr. Andy Pavia, Primary Children's Hospital (Photo: Intermountain Healthcare)

SALT LAKE CITY — The pediatrician who heads up hospital epidemiology at Primary Children’s Hospital said sending children to school without requiring them to wear masks would be a “terrible mistake.”

Dr. Andy Pavia, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at the University of Utah, told an online news conference on Thursday that elected officials should leave decisions about measures to prevent the spread of the COVID delta variant to the scientists and experts.

“If people overturn those recommendations, and kids get very sick, or kids die, they have to realize that it really is their responsibility now,” Pavia said.

Shortly after he made those remarks, the Salt Lake County Council overturned the public health order issued by Dr. Angela Dunn, head of the Salt Lake County Department of Health, that would have required elementary school students to wear masks when they return to school this month.

Should parents keep their children home?

He was asked whether parents should now consider keeping their children at home rather than sending them back to school.

“I really hope that we will do the right thing in our schools in areas where there’s lots of transmission [so] parents don’t have to make that very difficult choice,” he said.

Dr. Pavia said Primary Children’s Hospital is close to its capacity as it cares for seriously ill patients.

It has two COVID patients in its ICU. But Pavia said summer injuries and other infectious diseases are taxing its resources and staff. Additionally, other respiratory diseases are spreading in the community, in some cases months before they would normally be expected.

Return to school with minimal risk

He said, care with masking and other measures to prevent the spread of COVID and the delta variant can allow students to come back to school with minimal risk.

“We can have in-person school without huge surges if we have universal masking and combine that with distancing to the degree we can, combine that with better ventilation, keeping sick kids at home and all the things that we know work.”

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