SLC mayor urges council to extend mask mandate as Utah reports 4K new COVID cases

Citing success, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall urges the City Council to vote to continue a K-12 mask mandate in Salt Lake City schools on Monday. Health officials reported 4,213 new COVID-19 cases in the state over the weekend. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Just over three weeks after issuing a mask mandate for K-12 schools, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall attributed that action to the school district seeing the lowest case rates among students in the county since the start of the school year.

“Today, I am encouraged to report that our schoolchildren in Salt Lake City School District appear to be healthier and better able to stay in in-person learning than any other kids in Salt Lake County,” Mendenhall said during a news conference Monday at the Salt Lake City-County Building.

Mendenhall said she sent a letter to members of the City Council urging them to vote to extend the requirement in a vote on Tuesday.

Meanwhile on Monday, the Utah Department of Health announced 4,213 new COVID-19 cases were confirmed since Friday, as well as 16 additional deaths.

School-age children account for 935 of the new cases — 424 cases were ages 5-10, 253 cases were 11-13, and 258 cases were 14-17, the state health department said in its update.

The rolling, seven-day average for positive tests is 1,545 per day, and the average percent positivity rate of those tested stands at 12.1%.

The council has been supportive of the emergency mask order, Mendenhall said, adding that she hopes the data will convince them to continue the order.

Pointing to data from the Salt Lake County Health Department, Mendenhall said the Salt Lake City School District has a rate of 57.13 new cases per 10,000 population — the lowest among the county’s five school districts since the first day of school.

School districts’ case rates, according to county health department data shared by Mendenhall:

  • Canyons: 91.64 per 10,000 population
  • Granite: 85.73
  • Jordan: 103.44
  • Murray: 81.12
  • Charter: 100.34
  • Salt Lake City: 57.13

Salt Lake City School District, however, did start its school year on Aug. 24, several days after other districts. Canyons and Granite school districts began Aug. 16, schools in the Jordan School District started their fall sessions Aug. 16-17, and Murray schools opened between Aug. 13 and Aug. 23.

Students in Salt Lake City have mostly complied with the mask order, with 99.8% of students wearing them when required, Mendenhall said. The mayor said mask-wearing doesn’t appear to be impacting students’ ability to engage in school or socialize.

“I’ve always been hearing from families, hundreds of families in our school districts,” she said, adding that they have told her of the “peace of mind” they have sending kids to schools “with this extra layer of protection.”

“COVID continues to unnecessarily claim lives,” she said, noting that the situation appears to be “getting worse each day.”

“Our kids need to be wearing masks in schools and out in public. We’re not out of the woods, and we can’t afford to be taking a step backwards at a time like this,” the mayor said.

Until more people can get vaccinated, Mendenhall said, masks in schools “is the best tool we have to protect our children.”

Mendenhall issued the emergency order requiring masks for K-12 students on Aug. 20. The decision came after the Salt Lake County Council overturned an “order of constraint” for K-6 students to wear masks. Dr. Angela Dunn, county health director, requested the order soon before the school year began.

The 2021 Utah Legislature passed a law outlining who can issue public health orders during an emergency, limiting mayoral and gubernatorial emergency powers to 30-day orders that can be overturned, during a special session this spring that banned school districts or schools from issuing their own mask mandates.

Latest Utah data

Of the 4,213 new cases reported Monday, 1,016 were confirmed on Friday; 1,360 tested positive on Saturday; and 1,851 were confirmed on Sunday. The state health department removed 14 previously reported cases from the state’s total after data analysis.

On Monday, 562 patients were hospitalized in Utah with the coronavirus — an increase of 33 patients since Friday, state health officials said. Referral intensive care units that can treat the most serious patients were 92.1% full; overall ICU use stood at 91.5%; and non-ICUs across the state were 59.6% full.

Health care workers administered 20,078 vaccine doses since Friday, bringing total vaccines in Utah given to 3,343,245. Now, 50.7% of residents have been fully vaccinated, with 71.5% of those ages 12 and older fully vaccinated, health department data shows.

In the last 28 days, unvaccinated residents have faced 5.1 times greater risk of dying from COVID-19, 6.8 times greater risk of being hospitalized due to COVID-19, and 5.9 times greater risk of testing positive for COVID-19 than vaccinated people, according to the health department. Since Feb. 1, people who are unvaccinated are at 5.2 times greater risk of dying from COVID-19, 5.2 times greater risk of being hospitalized due to COVID-19, and 4.5 times greater risk of testing positive for COVID-19 than vaccinated people.

Five of the deaths reported Monday occurred before September. The latest deaths:

  • A Box Elder County woman, 65-84, who was hospitalized when she died.
  • A Duchesne County man, 25-44, hospitalized.
  • An Iron County man, 65-84, hospitalized.
  • A Salt Lake County woman, 65-84, not hospitalized.
  • A Salt Lake County man, 65-84, not hospitalized.
  • A Salt Lake County woman, older than 85, hospitalized.
  • Two Utah County men, 45-64, both hospitalized.
  • Two Weber County women, older than 85, both long-term care facility residents.
  • A Washington County woman, 25-44, hospitalized.
  • A Washington County man, 25-44, hospitalized.
  • A Washington County woman, 45-64, hospitalized.
  • A Washington County man, 65-84, hospitalized.
  • Two Weber County men, 65-84, both hospitalized.

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