July marks the fourth month of living with COVID-19 restrictions in Utah, and the upcoming school year is just around the corner.
After homeschooling and virtual classrooms became the new normal for families across the country this spring, students and teachers had to adapt quickly to a new set of challenges.
The Utah State Board of Education released planning requirements last week for K-12 schools including a wide range of recommendations from hygiene to classroom procedures for staff and students. Local education agencies are expected to have reopening plans in place by August 1.
Summit County Health Director Rich Bullough believes schools will be back in session later this summer, but said things will look pretty different.
“We do still anticipate guidance from the state superintendent and the Governor with respect to opening schools,” Bullough said. “If they open, which I think they will, they are going to be drastically modified. There is no way to control the risk of spread in a closed setting in a classroom for long durations of time with a large number of students indoors.”
Bullough says returning to a pre-COVID-19 lifestyle won’t be possible until a vaccine becomes widely available and herd immunity is achieved. With a vaccine not likely until early 2021 by the best estimates, Bullough says social distancing and wearing masks will probably continue for the foreseeable future and even after that goal has been achieved.
“We’re going to need to be aware of this stuff,” Bullough said. “A vaccine isn’t going to make us immune to this for our lifetime, it’s going to be a repeated vaccine almost certainly.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on Monday a vaccine that is 70-75% effective still won’t guarantee herd immunity if people are resistant to getting it.
Bullough agrees and says that in Utah, only about 65% of the population gets a flu shot each year. He says widespread vaccinations will be the only way to realistically stamp out COVID-19.
“If our country develops a vaccine, or internationally a vaccine, that, say, is 70% effective and then we have 25% of our populace opt out of that, we don’t have herd immunity,” Bullough said. “For us to go back to life as what we consider ‘normal’, we’ve got to have herd immunity and that includes people getting a vaccine.”
Plans for school openings later this year will be up to individual school districts. Bullough is asking to review Summit County’s reopening plan once it is decided.