I just finished the first week of school in person. It went pretty well.
Most of my teaching schedule crams 35 students or more shoulder to shoulder in close quarters in my classroom. It’s almost as if there wasn’t a pandemic. Just a student or two and I wear a mask each class period. I don’t see much concern for social distancing, or sanitizing. It’s business as usual for education in Utah. Unless you are worried about the more contagious Delta variant spreading like wildfire in Utah like I am.
The legislature took away the governor’s power to issue a mask mandate in schools or anywhere else for that matter. Relying on the increased cry of personal responsibility and freedom to control Covid-19.
So far it doesn’t seem to be working so great in our state. Numbers of cases rise daily as do deaths. I lament any death, even the elderly, but I’ve noticed that the ages of the deaths are dropping in this state into my age range — I’m 46 — and that’s scary. Last week, someone 15-24 died in my home county.
So what works in fighting Covid-19? Testing, tracing, and isolating.
Social distance 6 feet if possible. Wash your hands. And wear a mask. Vaccinations are of course super helpful. But according to my own county stats, Tooele County has only a 48% vaccination rate.
So why do only three or so students in my classroom mask along with myself? Did we give up? I have to expect 48% of my students are vaccinated on average and that leaves a lot of students — 18 or so — per period that aren’t. Lots of bodies for the virus to inhabit and mutate in and spread to other hosts.
I implore the state Legislature to take the virus seriously. We can fight the virus and still keep everything open and working by vaccinating, masking, testing, tracing, and isolating. It’s not the economy or public health zero-sum game. The economy won’t fully recover until the virus is controlled anyways. Let’s listen to science instead of politics. Hospitals are already overwhelmed. A dark winter lies ahead.
Let’s incentivize vaccinations, expand COVID-19 testing and tracing, mandate masks for those that aren’t vaccinated and have people wear masks that are. Weekly testing and tracing and isolating in schools would help us track the spread and combat it. How many more have to die because of freedom? Many in our state are outraged that 13 soldiers died last week at the Kabul airport in a war zone. But in Utah we have become numb to 10 deaths a day because of Covid-19. It barely registers to most. It’s too hard to sacrifice for the common good. When have Utahns become so selfish? I wasn’t taught this at church in Primary.
My dear Legislature and fellow Utahns, a global pandemic is not stopped with personal choice and freedom.
Sometimes we need a carrot and a stick to do what’s right. Most people won’t wear masks without a mandate. And those that are still not vaccinated need an incentive. Some states are running lotteries for the vaccinated as a reward. I think that could really move the needle.
Who wouldn’t vaccinate for a chance at a $100,000 prize?
Let’s do our part and help save our fellow Utahns before it is too late.
Jeff Saunders, a resident of Tooele County, teaches social studies at Stansbury High School. Attempting to practice what he teaches, Saunders has modeled community involvement for his students by running — although unsuccessfully — for Tooele City Council and Tooele County Council.