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Health director: Ogden, Weber schools’ COVID-19 case counts at manageable levels

By Tim Vandenack - | Sep 8, 2021

Emily Anderson, Standard-Examiner file photo

Kimberly Hopkin reads to her third grade class as she teaches them English at Odyssey Elementary School in Ogden on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020.

OGDEN — Schools in the Weber and Ogden school districts have not yet met the proposed threshold of COVID-19 cases that would trigger a mask mandate.

Brian Cowan, head of the Weber-Morgan Health Department, reported Tuesday that the highest case count at any individual school in the two counties was six, at just one facility. Two other schools had five active COVID-19 cases among students and staffers while all the others had four cases or fewer.

The figures “are still within our capabilities to manage,” Cowan said. “We’re happy with how those numbers are.”

He didn’t single out any schools by name in updating Weber County commissioners on the COVID-19 cases during a virtual presentation on Monday. Likewise, he made no mention of seeking a public health emergency declaration, suggesting the proposed 2% threshold at individual grade schools for implementation of mask mandates has not yet been met.

Just 86 cases in all have been reported in schools in Weber and Morgan counties since classes resumed late last month, spread among 47 school, Cowan said. Public schools within the health district don’t require masks, though some school officials recommend their use.

Image supplied

Brian Cowan, director of the Weber-Morgan Health Department, gives a report to Weber County Commissioners on the COVID-19 case count among students. He met virtually with commissioners on Monday, Sept. 6, 2021.

That said, among school-age kids in the two counties, those aged 5-18, there were 264 active cases in all, 254 of them in Weber County and some predating the start of the 2021-2022 school year. The Weber County figure represents a 24% increase from last week, according to health department info.

Moreover, another health department rep warned that the case count among students could ultimately surpass the figures from last year as the school year progresses. The 14-day case count per 100,000 kids aged 5-10 in Weber and Morgan counties as of Aug. 16 had already reached 242.9, up from 73.3 as of Sept. 1, 2020.

The delta variant of the COVID-19 virus, which accounts for the bulk of cases of late, “is highly transmissible and will spread among unvaccinated individuals when they congregate and gather indoors,” Zach Heuscher, an epidemiologist in the health department, told the Standard-Examiner. “Among school-age kids, there is still a large susceptible population of over 27,000 individuals that risk getting infected with the virus if protective measures are not taken.”

In a worst-case scenario, Heuscher said there could be more than 1,000 preventable hospitalizations and more deaths. That said, mask use, social distancing and other preventive measures would temper the potential issues.

The issue of masking in schools has been a hot one in Weber and Morgan counties, as across the nation. Per guidance put forward at a meeting last week between Cowan and Weber County commissioners, Cowan is proposing requiring mask use at K-6 schools when 2% or more of students test positive for the virus.

Emily Anderson, Standard-Examiner file photo

Kindergarteners at T.O. Smith Elementary School in Ogden listen in their classroom on Friday, Dec. 18, 2020.

Commissioners plan to meet with Cowan or a health department representative each week to stay on top of the case count. Monday’s meeting was the first since Cowan put his mask proposal to officials at an Aug. 30 meeting.

Officials in Grand County implemented a mask mandate there for students, but even so, Cowan said Ground County High School closed due to a jump in the number of cases in the facility. With 10 staffers testing positive in addition to eight students, there aren’t enough substitute teachers, so classes have gone online.

Officials in Tooele County, Cowan said, have implemented the sort of policy he’d like to see in Weber County — mandatory masking at K-6 schools if positive tests reach 2% of the student body.

Heuscher doesn’t foresee a leveling off of new COVID-19 cases among the general public anytime soon.

A leveling will occur “when enough people have been fully vaccinated. This is thought to be over 70% of the entire population,” he said. “At the current rate of vaccine uptake, 70% of the population will be fully vaccinated by March.”

Tim Vandenack, Standard-Examiner

Weber-Morgan Health Department Director Brian Cowan, foreground, discusses COVID-19 case levels with Weber County commissioners on Monday, Aug. 30, 2021. The commissioners, from left, are Scott Jenkins, Jim Harvey and Gage Froerer.

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