Park Record, September 23, 2021--Summit County extends mask order to middle schools, junior highs...

Summit County officials on Thursday issued an order requiring students in middle schools and junior high schools to wear masks if a COVID-19 outbreak occurs on campus, an extension of a measure that has been in place in elementary schools since the beginning of the academic year.

The order, which does not apply to high schools, would require mask-wearing if 2% of a school’s population, including students and adults, tests positive for COVID-19 in a two-week period. That has not happened in any public school in Summit County this fall.

According to data published by the Park City School District, the closest school to that threshold at midweek was Ecker Hill Middle School, which had nine active cases as of Wednesday evening. That equals just over 1% of the school’s population.

The North Summit and South Summit school districts each are reporting fewer than five cases in their elementary and middle schools.

The order goes into effect Monday and will remain in effect until Dec. 31 unless rescinded. The County Council can terminate the order at any time. It was signed by County Manager Tom Fisher and Health Director Phil Bondurant.

The order is tailored to students who are too young to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or who share a school with those who are. Vaccines are approved for use in those 12 and older.

“Although the Summit County Health Department continues its extensive efforts to vaccinate all eligible Summit County residents, there continues to be a lag among 12-15 year-olds who as a group have not reached Herd-Immunity,” the order states. “The 12-15 year age group resides in our Middle Schools and Junior High Schools.”

The order includes an estimate that herd immunity against the delta variant of the coronavirus is achieved when 80% of a population is vaccinated. It is an increase from the 70% figure that was used for the native strain of the virus.

The order indicates it may be terminated if the age group reaches herd immunity.

“It is the intent of the Health Officer and County Manager that a stop gap measure similar to that in vaccine ineligible populations (Elementary School children) should be in place in Middle Schools and Junior High Schools until the 80% vaccination goal is reached in those populations 12-15 years of age,” the order states.

Derek Siddoway, a county spokesperson, said the order was prompted by a slight increase in cases in that age group in Summit County, as well as a larger uptick in those case numbers across the state.

The order indicates that rising case counts in the general population will make their way into schools.

“According to a recent study from the United Kingdom, ‘for every five additional cases per 100,000 population in regional incidence, the risk of a school outbreak increased by 72%,’” the order states.

Bondurant said Monday that the county hadn’t seen any outbreaks in schools, which he described as two or more cases attached to a single case. He said the spread of the virus among young people did not appear to be occurring at schools.

Those comments came at a County Council meeting at which the elected officials extended an emergency order that allows the mask-related health orders to be put into place.

In a prepared statement announcing the new measure, Bondurant indicated the health orders are intended to maintain in-person learning at schools.

“As we watch what has occurred in other middle schools and junior high schools in the state, there is a credible threat of increased COVID-19 transmission in schools where there is an overlap of vaccine eligible and ineligible students,” he said in the statement. “This order provides another mitigation strategy intended to keep our schools open, limit the impact of potential outbreaks, and avoid Test-to-Stay protocols until vaccines are available later this fall.”

The statement indicates that younger students will be eligible to receive a vaccine this fall.

“Summit County Health Department leadership anticipates vaccines will be approved for students age 5-11 before Thanksgiving and is currently planning vaccine clinic operations for students and booster doses for individuals 65 and older,” the statement said.