Summit Health Director Comments On Effectiveness Of Masks, School Re-Openings

Jul 10, 2020

Credit courtesy of Summit County

In his latest visit with KPCW, County Health Director Rich Bullough talked about the effectiveness of face masks; the prospects for schools reopening; and other topics.  

Bullough said he doesn’t have much to say about the backlash against the Mask Order, or critics who think he’s on an authority trip.

He said the actions they’ve taken are no different than what’s been done at many other locations around the globe.      

“There’s none of us that want to be in the middle of this.  And we’re all trying our best to be sure that we can balance, public safety, public health and the economy.  It’s good that the travel is up, it’s good that the business and the economy sector is beginning to show signs of life.   But on the flip side of that, we see a surge in cases.  And so, it’s just a matter of balancing.”

He said that masks are the best tool they’ve got to allow businesses to stay open, while protecting their employees.

While some critics have alleged that masks aren’t effective, or that they can cause contamination problems of their own, Bullough said the data is clear.      

“Nothing is completely black and white, but there’s been multiple studies done on—epidemiological studies, first of all, so population-based studies—that have compared mortality, spread of COVID, all kinds of different factors, in communities and cultures that encourage and wear masks, and those that don’t.  And it’s very clear that mortality has decreased with masks, spread of COVID has decreased with masks.”

He said he’s following the population-based studies.        

“Every time you focus on a specific individual, an inconvenience, or somebody getting a sore throat by wearing a mask, that’s not the take-home message.   We’re trying to manage this condition across a population of people.   And absolutely, a mask can be inconvenient.  I’ve been wearing one now for several weeks.  I’ve gotten used to it.  It’s become a reflex to put it on, when I’m around anybody, and certainly in indoor settings when you’re in close proximity, etc.  So the evidence is clear.  There’s always gonna be people saying it isn’t.  But I’m very comfortable in where the data falls, and what the conclusions are, related to masks stopping, or at least controlling the spread of COVID by about 80 percent, 70 to 80 percent decrease in spread.”

While a decision on a state-wide mask mandate is reportedly imminent from Governor Gary Herbert, Bullough said they haven’t lobbied the state, but they favor a rule for all of Utah.    He said it would be easier if they had a consistent rule, in all the counties.

On a related topic, parents and students are waiting to hear if schools will re-open.    The Park City School District hasn’t made an announcement, but South Summit has a plan in place.

Bullough reminded residents that the schools aren’t in his jurisdiction, and it was the state that closed classrooms this spring.

He said he met recently with all three county districts.

“And obviously there are guidelines that the State Office of Education has issued and the governor has supported.   But there’s variability within those plans.  What’s most impressed me is that all fo the districts have done surveys.  They’ve surveyed their parents, they’ve surveyed their teachers and their staff and faculty, trying to figure out what they want, what they need for their education.”

In the meantime, he said his job on the school campuses is to track the cases.        

“Because there will almost certainly be cases in schools.  We don’t want to be in a situation where we’re having to isolate large numbers of students.  And so we’re trying to figure out how we identify the cases early, trace their contacts and isolate appropriately, similar to some earlier conditions like pertussis or some other condition in schools.  We’re not taking these sweeping measures and we’re not forced in—for example, Wasatch had a single case and had to isolate 2700 people last school year, 2700 students.  We don’t want to be in that situation.”

Summit County Health Director Rich Bullough.