School mask mandate must be allowed to stand, The Tribune Editorial Board writes

Dunn, Mendenhall and Wilson rightfully recognized threat to Salt Lake kids’ health. They shouldn’t have to fight with county council to keep masks

Government is supposed to act in the public interest, not according to the whim of those who shout the loudest or know the least.

It is unquestionably in the public interest for admission to most public institutions, particularly schools, to be conditioned upon each person being fully vaccinated against the COVID-19 coronavirus. And for those too young to receive the vaccine, now anyone under the age of 12, to wear masks in school and in other public places.

The head of the Salt Lake County Health Department, Dr. Angela Dunn, has ordered students in kindergarten through the sixth grade to wear masks to class.

That order must be allowed to stand.

The argument that masks or vaccines are a matter of personal choice and responsibility is daft. Both are steps that responsible people take, not just to protect themselves but to protect others. To refuse is to place other people in danger of sickness and death just because some people can’t be bothered to care.

Dunn issued the order Tuesday, barely a week before some of the county’s giant school districts are due to open for the year. The directive comes after some hesitancy on the public health expert’s part. She had been publicly loath to issue the order if, as appeared likely, it would just be overturned by the County Council.

But, supported by County Mayor Jenny Wilson and Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall, Dunn decided to go ahead with the order, as it became increasingly clear that the pandemic is not only not going away but also is an increasing threat to the health and life of children.

Experts predict that, without a mask mandate, Salt Lake County schools were likely to see one child being hospitalized with COVID every other day in the weeks after school opens. With such a rule, there is at least a chance that in-person school can become normal again, that classrooms won’t have to be closed and families won’t have to again struggle with uneven attempts at distance learning.

Such facts apparently mean nothing to those who have peppered public officials and public meetings with shouting and vilification, arguments drawn mostly from the torrent of false information that Fox News is putting out and that the folks at Twitter and Facebook cannot move fast enough to curtail.

Dunn’s order is a political football only because the Utah Legislature, clearly in the thrall of know-nothing anti-science crusaders, passed a law that gave both the County Council and the Legislature the power to overturn such public health orders. It is a power they should not have and, in this case, should not use.

Responsible adults in charge of public health and public education in Utah should not be put in the position of their counterparts in Texas and Florida. There, misgovernors Greg Abbott and Ron DeSantis are threatening to defund school districts, or withhold the pay of administrators, if schools institute mask mandates. But schools in Texas and Florida, are among those rightly planning to do it anyway.

The Utah Legislature has already unwisely blocked state institutions such as the University of Utah from mandating either vaccines or masks. But new U. President Taylor Randall has asked students and staff to be vaccinated and to wear masks while on campus, as the best way available to stop this new academic year from devolving into a public health disaster.

Westminster College, a private institution blessedly beyond the reach of the Legislature, has mandated vaccines.

Members of the County Council who are apparently planning to vote as soon as Thursday to overrule Dunn’s order should think better of it. The risk to our children is too great for council members to be playing politics.