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Park City High School students stage walkout to protest Legislature's effort to end mask mandate

PCHS Mask mandate protest.jpg
Carolyn Murray
Students at Park City High School on January 20, 2022, protest recent Legislative action on terminating the mask mandate in Summit and Salt Lake counties.

About 200 masked Park City High School Students walked out in protest to Utah State Senate action this week. On Tuesday, the Senate passed a resolution to end the mask mandate in Salt Lake and Summit Counties.

The students gathered in front of the high school, many without jackets, but all wore masks. Four speakers presented their opposition to the state legislators’ recent effort to remove Summit County health officials' ability to order public mask mandates. Before it can take effect, both houses must approve a joint resolution, which means it doesn't require the Governor's signature, nor can it be vetoed.

One student speaking first at the rally said he has family members who are at serious risk of being exposed to COVID-19. He said the mask mandate helps keep him from bringing the illness home, and if the joint resolution passes, it will result in kids deciding between coming to school or staying home.

Another student told the crowd COVID is a world health crisis, and because visitors come from everywhere, Summit County transmission rates are highest in the state. He said it is a civic duty to contact representatives and speak out on the issue. He encouraged those who were turning 18 by November to register to vote.

"The Utah State Senate is up for reelection on November 8 of this year. If you're able to, we recommend emailing or calling your representatives or your senators and telling them, hey, I disagree with what you're doing. That is our civic duty to our community, to tell the people we elected, they are doing something wrong." the student said.

PCHS Mask mandate protests social media.jpg
Organizers of the walkout made flyers posted and made social media posts advertising the walkout (pictured)

Another student said the pandemic had taught empathy for those at risk of death or severe illness from COVID. She told the crowd she understands how young people don't feel personally threatened by the virus. She asked her fellow students to consider the broader issues of sacrificing health and the loss of local governance.

"I hope those who are against this mandate find the decency to realize that being forced to wear a mask is a small issue in this current state. What about the fact that state government is taking over local government control, currently installing in Summit County by overturning health standards? What about school districts across Utah, asking parents to be substitutes due to the lack of staffing from COVID outbreaks? We're not even giving online options for teachers and students who either themselves or families are at risk. Thank you. You guys are all excused."

Park City High School has roughly 1,200 students. Shortly before the state ended its mandatory test to stay program last week due in part to lack of testing supplies, the school had about 200 active cases of COVID on campus. About a third of students were absent due to illness or quarantine, and students who did attend said a large number of teachers were also out, with colleagues scrambling to cover their classes amid a lack of substitute teachers.

Utah government officials including Governor Spencer Cox authorized school boards last week to move to temporary remote learning where COVID cases had surpassed a threshold of 30 active cases on campuses with less than 1,500 students. With Summit County under a mandatory mask mandate, the Park City School Board voted unanimously on Jan. 14 to continue in-person learning this week.

The legislature began the 45-day 2022 session on Tuesday, as COVID cases continue to surge and hospitals are seeing record numbers of infected patients.