UPDATED: Health department reports at least 27 active COVID-19 cases in local schools; FDA fully approves Pfizer vaccine

Stock photo | Iryna Tolmachova/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — A little over a week into the school year, schools in Southern Utah are already seeing a number of students needing to stay home after being infected with COVID-19.

The Washington County School District offices, St. George, Utah, Dec. 10, 2019 | Photo by Ryann Richardson, St. George News

According to the Utah Department of Health website, the Washington County School District shows 24 active cases of students and staff, while the Iron and Kane county school districts, and Southwest Utah charter schools each reported 1-4 cases. The Washington County school district number nearly doubled between Thursday and Friday.

Per a state law passed in May, schools can no longer require masks in school to prevent COVID-19 unless it is approved by a local health district or county government. The Southwest Utah Public Health District said at an Aug. 18 meeting that it will not impose a mask mandate in schools.

The Grand County School District, which is the only school district in the state to have started its school year with a mask requirement per its local health district, has no students or staff infected with COVID-19 according to the Utah Department of Health.

There are also no reported infections at this point in schools in Beaver or Garfield counties, or private schools in Southern Utah.

St. George News received a copy of a letter that is being sent home to parents throughout all of the school districts in the area if their child has been exposed to COVID-19 in their school. A copy of the letter is at the end of this article.

In the letter, parents are told that unlike last school year, their child does not have to quarantine at home if exposed to a fellow student with the virus, saying it is just providing “recommendations for your consideration.”

“Parents should follow state guidelines if their child is exposed at school, which we continue to recommend,” said David Heaton, spokesperson for the Southwest Utah Public Health Department.

Among the recommendations are keeping the child home and testing them for COVID-19 if they show symptoms or feel sick; however, a sheet provided by the Centers for Disease Control for pediatric providers states that 16% of children with SARS-CoV-2 infection are asymptomatic, but “evidence suggests that as many as half of pediatric infections may be asymptomatic.” This means that most school-age children will not exhibit any signs of sickness if they are infected with COVID-19, but they are still capable of spreading the virus that causes the disease.

A saliva-based COVID-19 test is demonstrated at the Intermountain Healthcare Southridge Clinic in Riverton, Utah, on an unspecified date. | Photo courtesy of Intermountain Healthcare, St. George News

Students that do test positive are required to remain home for at least 10 days.

Also unlike last school year, there is no procedure for closing a school no matter how many COVID-19 infections are taking place. Instead, under a “test to stay” bill passed in March by the state legislature, all students at a school would be tested if a certain threshold of infections are reached. Those students who would test positive would have to stay home.

The threshold is 2% of students infected if a school has 1,500 or more students, or 30 students if there are less.

Since no school in Washington or Iron counties has 1,500 students according to enrollment records as of May, the test-to-stay protocol would go into effect at a local school if 30 or more students were actively infected. However, the passed bill leaves it to the local school district and the Southwest Utah Department of Health to determine when and how the tests are administered.

According to the Georgia Tech Risk Assessment Planning study, which utilizes local, state and national COVID-19 numbers to determine the chance of being exposed to someone carrying the virus that causes COVID-19, there is between a 22%-23% chance a student in a class with 25 or fewer students will be exposed to COVID-19 in Washington or Iron counties as of Monday. That chance increases as the number of students do. 

On Monday, the Federal Drug Administration approved the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for people ages 16 and above, according to the Associated Press. Until now, it had only been approved under emergency use. Full non-emergency approval for the Moderna vaccine is also expected shortly. (See Ed. note)

Meanwhile, St. George News has learned that St. George Regional Hospital has once again gone beyond capacity; however, given the typical gestation period of the virus, students returning to school may not yet be impacting the situation. The CDC says that the rate of hospitalization among children is lower when compared to the rate of hospitalization for adults; however, the numbers of childhood hospitalizations are increasing.

A copy of the letter sent home to parents if someone within their child’s classroom is infected with COVID-19 in all of the school districts in Southern Utah | Email screenshot, St. George News | Click to enlarge

Updated 3 p.m., Aug. 23, 2021: Additional information on no plan to close schools and updated numbers.

Ed.  note: An earlier version of this article stated the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine had been approved for ages 12 and above.

Southern Utah schools active COVID-19 infections (as of Aug. 23, according to Utah Department of Health)

  • Washington County School District: 24
  • Iron County School District: 1-4
  • Kane County School District: 1-4
  • Garfield County School District: 0
  • Beaver County School District: 0
  • Southwest Utah Charter Schools: 1-4
  • Southwest Utah Private Schools: 0

COVID-19 information resources

St. George News has made every effort to ensure the information in this story is accurate at the time it was written. However, as the situation and science surrounding the coronavirus continues to evolve, it’s possible that some data has changed.

Check the resources below for up-to-date information and resources.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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