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In our opinion: When Utah teenagers lead out on COVID-19

“Even when I come early in the morning, I see kids sitting outside, and they all have their masks on,” the principal told us. “We rarely see a student without a mask at school.”

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

At Hillcrest High School in Midvale, only three students currently have active COVID-19 cases. Only 50 have had to quarantine at any one time.

Other schools in Utah have been forced to shut down and turn to online-only learning. But while teachers at Hillcrest, like those elsewhere, are stressed and overworked from teaching students both online and in person, Principal Gregory Leavitt credits a mask-wearing culture for keeping the numbers low. Building such a culture requires leadership, clear communication and shared accountability.

“Even when I come early in the morning, I see kids sitting outside, and they all have their masks on,” he told us. “We rarely see a student without a mask at school.”

Compare that with anecdotal reports around Utah of people wearing masks to enter retail establishments, then taking them off once inside and out of sight of employees. Compare it to any maskless gathering you may see, with people milling closely together.

Masks work. But absent the sort of culture that Hillcrest’s principal has fostered, the virus thrives as it jumps from person to person.

As the daily reports make apparent, COVID-19 infections are marching on in Utah. Friday, 1,343 new cases were recorded statewide, which was just below Thursday’s record of 1,501. The rolling seven-day average is 1,148.

On Sept. 25, the number was 1,370. On Sept. 18, it was 1,124. On March 20, when the economy was shutting down, the number was only 32, according to state figures.

Dr. Angela Dunn, the state epidemiologist, said Thursday the virus is spreading among all age groups. Doctors speak with emotion about the strain this is putting on hospitals, equipment and, mostly of all, caregivers.

Gov. Gary Herbert keeps telling people to voluntarily do the right thing. When asked whether government could do more, he says to wait and see. But the time to wait is over.

Clearly, as students and teachers at Hillcrest know, and as other examples have shown, masks work. Greater restrictions work. Utah County no longer is the hot spot it was a couple of weeks ago, before Provo and Orem returned to orange levels of restrictions.

That success “is an example of the success we can have when we come together as a community with a combined focus,” Dunn said.

白小姐一肖一码准选一码Now Salt Lake City is asking to go back to orange. Logically, other parts of the state should be moved back to higher restrictions, as well.

白小姐一肖一码准选一码Mask mandates are needed, but leadership, clear communication and shared accountability will be required to develop the necessary mask-culture in Utah’s communities.

Before putting too much blame on the governor, consider that state lawmakers have threatened to legislatively remove his emergency powers to fight pandemics if he imposes more restrictions. That kind of shortsightedness sends a damaging message.

Consider, too, that Utahns have varying ideas of what “the right thing” is. Some believe the best thing is to allow as many people as possible to become infected in order to obtain some level of herd immunity. Their reasoning is that only a small percentage of people die from the virus.

They misunderstand the sometimes debilitating aftereffects of the virus, including possible damage to the heart and other organs. No one is certain how long these problems might last. They misunderstand how long COVID-19 antibodies last. Evidence suggests some people are becoming reinfected after a time.

白小姐一肖一码准选一码Before thousands more learn the sad truth about the disease, Utah needs to get serious about proven prevention methods. The current course of action isn’t working. If an inspired group of Utah teenagers can be led to embrace a culture of mutually beneficial behaviors that keep them in school and with friends and teachers — the rest of the state should, too.