Weber County likely to see ‘substantial’ rise in COVID-19 cases among kids
OGDEN — As the school year begins, and Weber County leaders start debating whether a mask mandate is merited, the COVID-19 case count among kids is rising much higher than it was a year ago.
It could keep going northward.
Amy Carter, the Weber-Morgan Health Department‘s communicable disease and epidemiology nurse, is warning of “substantial growth” in the near term in the number of cases among students now that classes have resumed. A jump in cases occurred in the first month after the start of 2020-21 school year last year and she expects that pattern to repeat itself this fall, though the precise rise remains to be seen.
A report Carter presented to the Weber-Morgan Health Board on Monday stated there would be “significantly more spread” of the COVID-19 virus in schools this year compared to last year. The precise increase, though, is “the number we can’t project quite as easily,” she said in a followup interview with the Standard-Examiner.
Ogden School District kids resumed classes on Aug. 20 while Weber School District schools reopened on Wednesday. No mask mandate is in place here, but officials, per direction from the Weber-Morgan Health Board, will look into the possibility.
Here’s a look at some of the relevant numbers, from the Weber-Morgan Health Department and the Utah Department of Health, all showing higher case counts among kids compared to last year:
- At present, Utah kids are contracting the COVID-19 virus at 2 to 5 times the rate they were at the start of the 2020-21 school year.
- As of Aug. 16, the 14-day case rate per 100,000 kids aged 5 to 10 in Weber and Morgan counties totaled 242.9 up 192% from 73.3 cases per 100,000 in the age group as of Sept. 1, 2020.
- The 14-day case rate per 100,000 kids aged 11-13 in Weber and Morgan counties as of Aug. 16 totaled 337.4, up 126% from 82.5 cases on Sept. 1, 2020.
- The 14-day case rate per 100,000 kids aged 14-17 in Weber and Morgan counties as of Aug. 16 totaled 431.9, up 145% from 165.7 cases on Sept. 1, 2020.
- Statewide, using a slightly different measure, an average of 26.1 kids a day per 100,000 in the 1 to 14 age group were diagnosed with COVID-19 in the seven days through Aug. 24 this year. By contrast, only 4.1 kids a day per 100,000 contracted COVID-19 in the seven days through Aug. 24, 2020.
- While the case count among those aged 1 to 14 in Utah is lower than last November, December and January, when numbers peak, they have been steadily rising since June, as in all age groups.
Potentially exacerbating things are lower vaccination rates among kids. Kids under 12 aren’t able to get vaccinated while the vaccination rate among those aged 12 t0 18 in Weber and Morgan counties lags other age groups.
Just 48% of those aged 12 to 18 had received at least one vaccination shot as of Aug. 23, according to the Weber-Morgan Health Department. The rates progressively rise as the age range goes up, from 50% among those aged 19 to 29 to 91% for those aged 70 and up.
Carter anticipates a surge in cases among kids “basically because we’re getting together again,” she said. That is, with classes resuming, kids will now be in close proximity with other kids, lots of them.
And while vaccination rates, hand washing and mask use, among other things, will bear on how numbers ultimately shake out, there’s another wild card that wasn’t present last year — the delta variant of COVID-19. The new strain, responsible for most cases of late in the country, “spreads so much more quickly and easier” than last year’s strains.
Given the situation, Carter recommends that kids who can get vaccinated do so. Per recommendations of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics, she also advises that kids, vaccinated or not, wear masks when in public indoor settings.
The Weber-Morgan Health Board met Monday and discussed whether to implement a mask mandate among kids, a topic of heated debate around Utah and the country. Board members directed county commissioners in Weber and Morgan counties to meet with Weber-Morgan Health Department Director Brian Cowan to sort through the issue and come back with their findings and any recommendations.
Officials could start meeting on the issue as soon as Aug. 30.
Cowan expressed reservations at last Monday’s meeting about imposing an immediate mask mandate. He said he would favor an approach similar to what is being done in Summit County.
The plan there, which went into effect on Aug. 21, says face covering would be required if the 14-day COVID-19 positivity rate among students, staff and faculty at any individual grade school reaches 2%. The rule doesn’t apply to middle schools or high schools.
Still, the topic has generated fire from some, leery of mandating masks for a variety of reasons.
Utah Rep. Mike Schultz, a Republican from Hooper and the House majority whip, says parents — not elected officials — should decide if their kids wear masks.
Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall last week issued a mandate requiring mask use by kids in Salt Lake City schools, from kindergarten through high school. Schultz, among others, ripped the decision, focus of fierce criticism from some.
“Clearly she does not have the legal authority to do what she’s doing,” he said. “This is chaos. She’s creating chaos.”
He noted that the Fremont High School boundaries here in Weber County spread into several cities. He raised the scenario of a mayor in one of the locales issuing a mask mandate among students, creating questions as to how such an order would be implemented. “How would that work?” he said.
While a foe of mask mandates, he said guidelines set out in state law put authority in the matter in the hands of health officials and elected county leaders. They should address the mask question, not mayors.