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Salt Lake City mayor issues mask order for K-12 schools

August 20, 2021 GMT
People listen to the Salt Lake County Council before their vote to overturned the health department's "order of restraint" on Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021, that would have required K-6 students to wear masks when school starts next week. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
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People listen to the Salt Lake County Council before their vote to overturned the health department's "order of restraint" on Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021, that would have required K-6 students to wear masks when school starts next week. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
1 of 4
People listen to the Salt Lake County Council before their vote to overturned the health department's "order of restraint" on Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021, that would have required K-6 students to wear masks when school starts next week. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The mayor of Salt Lake City announced Friday that she had issued a mask order in the city’s K-12 schools as the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus spreads.

Mayor Erin Mendenhall said she used her emergency powers to issue the order and that she plans to work with health officials to determine when it can be lifted.

“As Mayor it is my responsibility to do everything I can to keep our City, and our school district, from going down the tragic and dangerous path many others are already on,” Mendenhall, a Democrat, said in a statement.

The order comes a week after the Salt Lake County Council overturned a school mask order for kids under 12 that the county’s top health official issued. Mendenhall said the majority of board members had privately told her that they feared retaliation and urged her to issue the order.

“Unfortunately, and despite all the evidence that masks protect children and the adults who care for them, this issue has become politicized to the point that elected bodies across the country, and in the State of Utah, worry about retaliation if they take stand as an organization,” Mendenhall wrote.

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Masks were required in classrooms last year, but under a new state law, school mask mandates are now banned. Local health departments can issue a rule but only with the support from elected county leaders, and anti-mask advocates have been vocal in their opposition.

Meanwhile, a summer surge of the virus — mostly among unvaccinated residents — has continued to grow.

New data from the Utah Health Department showed that in the past 28 days, residents who are unvaccinated have been over five times more likely to die from COVID-19 and are more than six times more likely to be hospitalized than those who are vaccinated.

About 59.2% of Utah residents ages 12 and older were fully vaccinated as of Thursday, state data shows. Utah reported three new deaths from COVID-19 on Thursday, bringing the total since the pandemic began to 2,563.