The state of Utah announced that it will no longer mandate students to wear face masks for the upcoming school year. Republican Gov. Spencer Cox said the announcement followed rising vaccination rates – a sign for some school districts to loosen restrictions. Parents have previously protested mask-wearing orders for schools in the Beehive State.
Speaking to the Associated Press, Cox defended his decision to eschew mask mandates for students. “We now have the ability for those that have concerns about the virus to protect ourselves much more. We have better masks available and opportunities for people to make those decisions,” he said. Students with a higher risk of infection will now have the option to either wear N95 masks while attending classes or continue distance learning if available – following the announcement.
Cox’s remarks appear to be a complete 180-degree turn from his earlier pronouncements. Deseret News reported in April 2021 that the Republican governor defended mask mandates in schools. “If we were to remove masks, there are a whole bunch of vulnerable kids and vulnerable parents who would have to take their kids out of school, and we don’t want that to happen,” he said.
The governor cited the success of the mask mandate as a key factor in federal guidance reducing social distancing in classrooms. “Let’s not make the mistake of pulling back too early. Let’s make sure that we keep kids in school keep kids safe,” Cox commented.
According to research, young children transmit the Wuhan coronavirus less frequently than older children and adults. Studies have also found that children who wear masks often undermine their protectiveness by touching and taking them on and off. Mask-wearing children furthermore reported breathing difficulty, irritation and low peer acceptability.
Many school districts around the country have already eschewed mask-wearing orders. Others have also expressed their intention to make them voluntary. Half of all the U.S. states nevertheless still have statewide mask orders and many school districts still mandate students to mask up. (Related: Teachers’ union rep nearly PASSES OUT from wearing a mask while demanding everyone wear more masks.)
West Virginia is following Utah’s move to do away with statewide mask mandates
The Utah State Legislature passed a law lifting the statewide mask mandate effective April 10. But the Utah Department of Health clarified that mask mandates for students will remain in place until June 15. The Utah Education Association meanwhile said in a statement that mask-wearing orders for teachers, students and school staff “should remain in place until public health experts signal it is safe to remove them.”
It is unclear if school districts or individual schools will be able to impose mask-wearing rules. But in the situation that COVID-19 cases surge, Cox remarked that state lawmakers could convene to impose restrictions once more.
Later, West Virginia announced a similar measure to repeal its statewide mask mandate. Gov. Jim Justice announced on May 7 that the Mountain State will lift its state-wide mask mandate on June 20. The date also coincides with the anniversary of West Virginia’s admission into the union.
According to an AP report, the decision followed state officials projecting more than two-thirds of eligible West Virginians getting vaccinated against COVID-19 by June 20. “We’ll be close enough. We’re going with that date, period,” Justice remarked.
A report by WVNews.com added the June 20 target date the governor announced “is set in stone.” But Justice commented that it would be necessary to “pivot” if the Wuhan coronavirus “whiplashes around on us.” He also noted that those who wish to continue masking up can do so and private businesses will still have the right to require customers to mask up.
“It’ll naturally be your choice whether you’re going to have the mask or not, but the mandate will be lifted,” Justice said.
The move is another complete 180-degree turn from Justice’s signing of an “ultra-mandatory” mask mandate back in December 2020. He signed Executive Order 77-20 early that month, which amended an earlier rule he issued in July 2020. “I will issue a mandatory requirement to wear a face covering indoors in all public buildings at all times. This is not just when social distancing cannot be maintained, this is mandatory wearing your face covering in all buildings, at all times, other than your home,” Justice said in a statement.
The West Virginia governor added that businesses must call the police if patrons do not mask up. He also threatened businesses that do not comply with the mandate that they will face closure and obstruction of justice charges.
Visit Pandemic.news to read more articles about mask mandates statewide and in school districts.