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COVID-19 now at more Weber County schools, but situation manageable

By Tim Vandenack - | Sep 20, 2021

TIM VANDENACK, Standard-Examiner

A vial of COVID-19 vaccine is pictured at a clinic geared to the homeless held Wednesday, March 31, 2021, at the Lantern House homeless shelter in Ogden.

OGDEN — Weber County’s top health official says every school in Weber County has reported at least one COVID-19 case among students or staff.

The caseload over the last two weeks at five schools in the county has exceeded 15 or, for schools with 1,500 or more students, 1% of the enrollment count, the halfway point to triggering a required COVID-19 testing event for students, Brian Cowan, head of the Weber-Morgan Health Department, said Monday. The facilities include three high schools, one junior high school and an elementary school.

Still, the situation hasn’t gotten to the point that he thinks a public health order or mask mandate is merited. “Our school districts and the charter schools are doing a good job of working with us and trying to keep the situation in check,” he told Weber County commissioners during his weekly discussion with them on the matter.

Officials here are paying particularly close attention to the COVID-19 situation in schools in Weber and Morgan counties to guard against a possible outbreak. Cowan has broached the notion of a mask mandate, but only if the caseload in schools were to reach the test-to-stay level outlined by state officials — 2% of students at schools with an enrollment of 1,500 or more, or 30 cases at smaller schools.

As is, the situation is still manageable, even with cases scattered at 101 Weber County schools, up from 66 last week, he said. Vaccinations among those aged 12 to 18 in Weber County have been increasing at the fastest rate of any age group, Cowan said, and 54% of the population has had a least one vaccine dose.

Nevertheless, Cowan repeated his concerns about lack of compliance with quarantining guidelines among students who have had contact with someone who’s tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. And county commissioners expressed exasperation as well, proposing a messaging campaign — perhaps a public statement — expressing concern over the matter.

“If they know that they’ve been exposed and we ask them just to sit and wear a mask for seven days and they refuse to do it? My gosh that’s how this stuff is spreading,” said Commissioner Scott Jenkins. Quarantining guidelines are another tool to guard against the spread of the virus.

Cowan said he’d work on a statement, which Jenkins views as a way to help the county “stay out of mandating anything.”

“Teach your kids responsible citizenry, to just even respect others in our community,” said Commissioner Jim Harvey. “That’s all it is. It’s that simple. Civility, it’s basic civility.”

Per guidelines in effect in Weber County, students found to have been in contact with someone with the COVID-19 virus are asked to stay home, wear a mask and/or show proof of a negative test for the virus. Some students, though, haven’t been following the guidelines, said Cowan, who first reported the issue to commissioners last week, and school officials have no way to force them to comply.

“With lack of a public health order, it really is kind of a voluntary process,” Cowan said. “Teachers are asking the students to wear the masks but they may or may not cooperate”

Cowan didn’t identify the schools that are edging closer to the test-to-stay case levels. But figures on the Utah Department of Health COVID-19 website show that several schools in the Weber School district are nearly halfway to the threshold levels.

Orion Junior High School in Harrisville had 17 active COVID-19 cases among its 1,070 students, a 14-day case rate of 1.6%. Weber High School in Pleasant View had 15 active cases among its student body of 2,101, a 0.7% 14-day case rate. Washington Terrace School in Washington Terrace had 13 cases, 2.5% of its 517 students.

The 2% and 30-student thresholds, depending on school size, are spelled out in Senate Bill 107, approved earlier this year. Schools that pass the limits are required to conduct COVID-19 testing of students. Students who subsequently test positive must stay home until they complete an isolation period, according to the rules.

Those who don’t take part in testing must quarantine at home for 10 days.

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