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Elementary school study puts Utah governor mask stance comments in dispute

Sep 3, 2021, 7:41 AM
Photo of two 'mask required' signs...
'Masks required' sign inside an airport (File photo: Mike Anderson, KSL TV)
(File photo: Mike Anderson, KSL TV)

SALT LAKE CITY — A study of Utah elementary schools puts comments made by the governor earlier this week in doubt when it comes to whether wearing a mask helps prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

Utah governor on “the mask thing” 

The governor, in a news update in which he said he planned to wear a mask in crowded places such as church, described “the mask thing” as blown “out of proportion.” 

“Let me just say this: Masks are not as effective as most of the pro-mask crowd are arguing,” Cox said. “We know that. They’re just not. They are a tool, and they do have some impact.” 

An infectious disease expert at Intermountain Healthcare called on the Utah governor to correct his mask stance in a tweet. Dr. Andrew Pavia called the statement from Gov. Spencer Cox “factually incorrect,” “wrong,” and “an affront to health care and public health workers.” 

So are masks overblown, or is the governor “factually wrong?” 

Fact-checking the argument

In an interview with KSL NewsRadio, Nicholas Rupp with the Salt Lake County Health Department said the evidence shows mask wearing helps in Utah. In fact, he said, a study conducted in Salt Lake County supports the evidence for mask efficacy. 

“Best thing we can do, if you are not vaccinated, particularly if you are too young to be vaccinated, is to wear a mask,” Rupp said. “The CDC collaborated with the Salt Lake County Health Department, and we did a study of 20 Salt Lake County elementary schools during last year’s winter surge, and we found very little spread of COVID in classrooms with high mask wearing, even though those classrooms weren’t able to socially distance the students. In fact, out of 728 documented exposures in those classrooms, only 5 students were actually infected. And that’s 0.7%.” 

Rupp said health officials believe students should stay in the classroom, learning in-person, as much as possible. Masks, he said, allow that to happen.

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Elementary school study puts Utah governor mask stance comments in dispute