What are concerned families doing if there’s no mask mandate at school?

Melissa Seger once thought she wanted to be a teacher.

“I actually went to school to be a teacher and soon realized it wasn’t for me,” she said.

Or so she thought.

This school year, Seger and her husband, Rob, will homeschool their children, a decision that was reinforced after the Salt Lake County Republican majority council voted 6-3 on Thursday along party lines to end a health order that would end all children in Salt Lake County. under 12 to wear masks at school.

Last year, the couple’s 6-year-old twins, Gwendolyn and Vivian, attended kindergarten online. Their oldest daughter, Lydia, 10, also started the school year online, but the many hours of screen time per day took their toll.

“With my fourth grader it was all day and she was having a hard time with the constant Zoom meetings, she just got the energy to move forward and do all the things she had to do,” Seger said.

“We ended up sending her to school in March after my husband was vaccinated. Because of the masks, we felt comfortable,” she said, referring to the universal masking of students, teachers and staff that was mandatory at the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year, but that in the last weeks of the school year under the so-called COVID-19 “endgame” legislation passed by Utah legislature.

The Segers considered sending their children to school in person after Dr. Angela Dunn, executive director of the Salt Lake County Department of Health, announced that she had issued a writ requiring masks to be worn by elementary school-age children who were not yet eligible for vaccination.

But that plan ended after the mask mandate was quickly terminated by the County Council.

“It’s discouraging. I was a little upset when I put away their backpacks and all the things we bought especially for school,” Seger said.

“We just put them away in hopes that maybe once we can get them vaccinated, we can talk about sending them back to school again, depending on what the climate is like.”

The Segers are hardly alone.

Canyons School District spokesperson Jeff Haney said the district received a deluge of questions about online school options immediately after the County Council vote.

Jordan School District has also received a surge in parents enrolling their children in its online schools as concerns about the delta variant of COVID-19 have increased and the number of cases has risen, district spokeswoman Sandy Riesgraf said.

Melissa Seger counts along with her daughter Vivian (6) at their home in South Jordan on Friday, August 13, 2021. Seger and her husband Rob will homeschool their children this year, a decision reinforced after Salt Lake County Council voted Thursday with 6-3 along party lines to end a health order that required all children under 12 to wear masks at school. Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Seger said she and her husband could have sent their daughters to school in masks, but she feared how they would fare given the widely differing views on mask-wearing in their community and across Utah.

“We were concerned if we sent them, would they be prosecuted? Would they be fooled?” she said.

Although she and her husband have been fully vaccinated for several months, they are deeply concerned about the COVID-19 breakthrough and the threat posed by the more virulent delta variant to Robert, who is a cancer survivor and has epilepsy.

They are also concerned about long-term COVID-19 and MIS-C, the multi-system inflammatory syndrome in children, a serious condition linked to COVID-19 that can cause various parts of the body to become inflamed, including the heart, lungs, kidneys. , the brain, skin, eyes or gastrointestinal organs.

In a briefing with reporters ahead of the County Council vote, Dr. Andrew Pavia, chief of the pediatric infectious diseases division at the University of Utah Health and director of hospital epidemiology at Primary Children’s Hospital, explains that “children are getting sick with COVID. ”

“It is very difficult for me. I feel very, very strongly that we are about to put our children in great danger.” — Dr. Andrew Pavia, chief of the pediatric infectious diseases division at the University of Utah Health

Children are less likely to become seriously ill than adults, and many who become infected will be fine, Pavia said.

“But that doesn’t mean children aren’t affected by COVID. Not only can they become very sick, which we often see in primary education, but there are other consequences for children, including what happens if they are quarantined, if they develop COVID for a long time. or their parents are sick,” he said.

Not all children are healthy and can fight the effects of COVID-19 as easily as others. “Depending on how you judge it, up to a fifth of children in school have a medical condition that puts them at increased risk. It could be asthma, and maybe diabetes and maybe obesity or maybe something much more serious like cancer or transplant. Those children can only be adequately protected if everyone wears a mask,” he said.

A schedule Melissa Seger has worked out for homeschooling her three daughters – Lydia (10), Vivian (6) and Gwendolyn (6) – will be on display at their South Jordan home on Friday, August 13, 2021. Seger and her husband Rob will do that. homeschool their children this year, a decision reinforced after the Salt Lake County Council voted 6-3 on party lines Thursday to end a health order that required all children under 12 to wear masks at school. Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Pavia, who said he is usually indifferent during medical briefings, said: “It’s very difficult for me. I feel very, very strongly that we are about to put our children in great danger.”

Nathan Jeffs, whose two younger children have medical conditions that put them at greater risk for complications if they contract COVID-19, plans to keep primary school-age children at home this fall and use online instruction.

All three of his children attended school online last year, but his son, who is entering seventh grade, will attend school in person. He is fully vaccinated and will wear a mask to school. The Jeffses have purchased multiple reusable N-95 masks for each of their children, he said.

When asked if he feared his son would be bullied at school for wearing a mask, Jeffs replied, “Absolutely we do.”

Jeffs and his wife prepared him for that opportunity.

“I’d say it’s a possibility, but I think it’s more of that possibility. If it doesn’t happen, I’d be incredibly shocked if he doesn’t get some kind of comment,” he said.

Jeffs said he wishes County Council members who voted to end the mask mandate would have left to Dunn’s expertise.

“We’re thankful we decided to just enroll them both online because they’re playing, gambling, with children’s lives here,” he said.

Jeffs said he has had the experience of spending several days in a pediatric intensive care unit with his critically ill daughter, who simultaneously had respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, RSV-induced asthma, and pneumonia.

“I think there are a lot of people, especially in the field of anti-mask, anti-vax, who have never experienced or seen an emergency room or a visit to the intensive care unit with a child. They don’t have that background knowledge of what it’s like and how horrible it is to see a small child intubated. Watching five grown adults restrain the arms and legs of a 5-year-old child so that they can intubate is a hugely invasive and, frankly, frightening procedure. It’s not something you really wish on anyone,” Jeffs said.

“Without that background knowledge, a lot of these individuals, a lot of these lawmakers who are against these mask mandates, just don’t have the ability to understand why it’s such a concern for so many people.”

While online learning is the best option for protecting the health of his younger children, Jeffs said he knows his son, “a people-lover,” would benefit more educationally from attending school in person.

Until his younger children can be vaccinated and without a mask mandate, they will get the most out of online learning.

“We would like to return them personally. As many people have pointed out, and I think almost everyone would agree, the best way to learn is in person,” Jeffs said.

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