Dr. Angela Dunn urges parents to put face masks on their kids indoors

Her recommendation, not a mandate, comes as another 815 Utahns test positive for COVID-19.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Teams of volunteers divide the Moderna vaccine on Thursday, March 18, 2021, as the Utah Film Studios loans its space to the Summit County Health Department as a drive-thru COVID-19 vaccination station.

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Children under 12 should wear masks indoors to prevent catching COVID-19, Dr. Angela Dunn said in her first public statement since taking the helm of the Salt Lake County Health Department.

“It’s on us — as parents, as community leaders, as teachers — to normalize that, and have our kids in masks when they go indoors,” Dunn said at a news conference Thursday.

“We did this last year, and we had almost no outbreaks among our elementary school kids. And that’s who we’re trying to protect in the fall,” Dunn said.

Dunn issued her recommendation on a day when her former employer, the Utah Department of Health, announced another 815 Utahns have been diagnosed with COVID-19 — the second day in a row that number exceeded 800.

Federal agencies, Dunn said, may not authorize the COVID-19 vaccines for young children until fall. Right now, the Pfizer vaccine is approved for emergency use for people as young as 12, while the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson versions are approved only for adults 18 and older.

Once younger children can get the vaccine, Dunn said, COVID-19 “will be treated like another vaccine-preventable disease — like measles, like the flu.”

For now, though, “it is our collective responsibility to protect those who don’t even have the option of getting vaccinated,” Dunn said. That can be done, she said, by recommending kids wear masks indoors, and for adults who can to get vaccinated.

Dunn said she is following the mask recommendation in her own family. “My kids will be wearing masks in school,” Dunn said, adding that her children are enrolled in a private school that requires students to wear masks — as many private schools do.

Dunn stood with Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson and Steve DeBry, chairman of the Salt Lake County Council, to urge people to get vaccinated.

Wilson, a Democrat, said that she, Dunn, DeBry (a Republican) and conservative talk-show host Sean Hannity all have one thing in common: “We all want you to get vaccinated.”

Dunn’s recommendation for children to wear masks is not a mandate, she said. County officials have talked with leadership in the Utah Legislature — which stripped counties and cities of the authority to issue their own mask orders earlier this year — and “it’s very clear their intent is not to have mandates,” Dunn said. “Right now, the only effective option we have is a recommendation.”

Wilson pointed out that the legislature has decreed that the mayor could veto a mask order issued by the health department, and the Salt Lake County Council could overrule the mayor — and the legislature could overturn a mandate enacted by the county. “Our authority is limited,” Wilson said.

It was the first time Dunn has spoken publicly to reporters since May, when she left her job as the state of Utah’s epidemiologist, a position from which she advised two governors on how to battle the COVID-19 pandemic. Dunn started her new job, leading the health department in Utah’s most populous county, in June.

The current summer surge of COVID-19 cases “is a bit of a ‘Groundhog Day,’” Dunn said, referring to the movie in which a weatherman relives the same day over and over. “What’s so much better right now, vs. last summer, is we’ve got effective vaccines.”

Vaccine doses administered in past day/total doses administered • 5,847 / 2,969,138.

Utahns fully vaccinated • 1,459,208.

Cases reported in past day • 815.

Deaths reported in past day • One: A Salt Lake County man between the ages of 45-64.

Tests reported in past day • 5,079 people were tested for the first time. A total of 8,483 people were tested.

Hospitalizations reported in the past day • 291. That’s four fewer than on Wednesday. Of those currently hospitalized, 128 are in intensive care, seven more than on Wednesday.

Percentage of positive tests • Under the state’s original method, the rate is 13.9%. That’s higher than the seven-day average of 13.4%.

The state’s new method counts all test results, including repeated tests of the same individual. Thursday’s rate was 9.6%, higher than the seven-day average of 9.2%

[Read more: Utah is changing how it measures the rate of positive COVID-19 tests. Here’s what that means.]

Totals to date • 426,418 cases; 2,425 deaths; 18,249 hospitalizations; 2,877,532 people tested.

Because the Utah Department of Health is no longer updating COVID-19 numbers on weekends and holidays, the next update will be released on Monday.