Utah students implore parents to stop fighting mask mandates

High school seniors who pushed back against recent anti-mask protests joined Gov. Gary Herbert at a weekly briefing Wednesday imploring parents to stop fighting Utah's face covering mandate in schools.

Three Enterprise High School students voiced frustration with parents and other community members who recently planned a no-mask protest Monday in St. George. The students said they are willing to wear masks to keep their school open and prevent any further disruptions to their educational experience.

“We shouldn’t be throwing away the opportunity to be in extracurriculars and to be in person and socialize over something as small as wearing a mask,” said Dallee Cobb. “I feel like the opinion of parents and adults in general right now are just a big part of that problem.”

The state's public schools are doing a mix of in-person and online learning, with many districts leaving the decision to parents. Herbert said he recognizes those who have objections to wearing masks but said it is a minimal sacrifice that nearly all students are willing to make.

The Republican governor has stopped short of implementing a mask mandate during the pandemic but has continually urged people to wear face coverings to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

“Our young people taught us today that they’re willing to take that little sacrifice,” he said. “We the adults ought to follow that lead and have that same kind of a positive attitude.”

Meanwhile, the state's total deaths from the virus reached 400 on Wednesday with four new deaths reported. But officials also said new case numbers have remained low compared to earlier this summer.

The state's epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn said that at the beginning of August, Utah was averaging about 500 new cases a day and a positivity rate that was hovering around 10%. The state's positivity rate has since dropped about 1.5% and the rolling seven-day average for new cases has remained under 400 since Aug. 11.

“Utah is moving in the right direction,” Herbert said. “It doesn’t mean we’re perfect. It certainly doesn’t mean that we’re close to the finish line.”

More than 50,000 cases of the virus have been reported, according to state data. The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness and death.

Sophia Eppolito is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.