Official says Kane and Iron county school districts are violating state mask mandate

ST. GEORGE — The state’s top epidemiologist said Thursday that the school districts in Iron and Kane counties are violating the state’s mask mandate for schools, but added the state Utah Department of Health doesn’t plan to enforce those violations. 

File photo of Tuacahn High School Student Body Co-Vice President Autumn Best (L) and President Gabriela Merdia (R) in Ivins, Utah, Feb. 19, 2021 | Photo by David Dudley, St. George News

Dr. Angela Dunn, the state’s epidemiologist until she moves on to lead the Salt Lake County Health Department on June 1, said that there is not a loophole to allow two Southern Utah school districts to make it easier for students and employees to not wear a face covering or mask despite the state’s order that students and staff at all K-12 schools must wear masks to prevent the transmission of COVID-19.

“My understanding is there is not a loophole. We are still expecting K-12 students to be wearing masks in schools to prevent the spread of COVID,” Dunn said but added that neither the state nor the Utah Department of Health plans to penalize the school districts. “We also understand there’s a lot of controversy about that and we’re leaving enforcement and decisions to the local level where they really know their community best. It’s a tricky balance we’ve been trying to figure out since the start of the pandemic.” 

On the local side, Southwest Utah Public Health Department spokesperson David Heaton said they will also not enforce the school mask mandate, leaving it for the school districts. “That’s up to the school districts to how much they’re able to do,” Heaton said.

The mask mandate for K-12 schools statewide stayed in place for the remainder of the school year even after the state’s overall mask mandate was ended on April 10.

State epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn, with the Utah Department of Health, speaks during a press conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, on April 29, 2021 | Screenshot from Gov. Spencer Cox Facebook page, St. George News

However, on April 13, the Kane County School Board modified its mask policy where a doctor’s note is no longer required for a student or staff member to be exempt from wearing a mask if they said they had a medical condition, mental health condition, or intellectual or developmental disability. Students need a note from their parents, while staff members can submit a letter from themselves.

Iron County’s school district followed suit with a similar modification Tuesday.

The wording of the state schools mask order, last modified on Jan. 21, has exemptions for students and staff with medical and mental health conditions, adding that as far as proof of medical exemption “A school may require an individual to provide a medical directive from a Doctor of Medicine (MD), Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO), Physician Assistant (PA), Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN), documenting a need for an exemption.” 

The use of the word “may” was mentioned by Kane County officials as proof the doctor’s note was not mandated. 

Regardless of a dispute over mask order language, Dunn said that even while not aiming to penalize school districts breaking with the state mandate she is concerned with students stopping mask wearing, especially when the vaccine is not available to those under 16 years old. 

Dunn said that the rate of new infections has now plateaued for the second straight week with a slight increase, and the main driver is an increasing number of COVID-19 infections in K-12 students including two large school outbreaks in northern Utah.

That has not been the case in Southern Utah, where the Washington County School District has 14 active cases, which is on par for where they have been, while Iron County has six and there are none in the school districts of Kane, Garfield or Beaver counties.

Map shows the severity of COVID-19 infections in different parts of Utah as of April 29, 2021. | Photo courtesy Utah Department of Health, St. George News | Click to enlarge

The COVID-19 variant first detected in the United Kingdom is more easily spread and has more potential to cause illness in younger populations that have not been as prone to severe illness from COVID-19, and the health department said it and other variants are now quickly spreading in the state. 

“That’s still left to be determined,” Dunn said as far as whether younger kids are more likely to get ill from the variants. “We are seeing more younger people hospitalized with COVID.”

Southern Utah, according to the state health department, has gone from seeing one of the virus variants at the start of the month to 43, with the first recorded instance this week of the variant first discovered in Brazil appearing in this part of the state.

Gov. Spencer Cox, in his weekly COVID-19 press conference, added a note of caution to the optimism he has expressed in the last few weeks, saying it is important to wrap up the pandemic in the next few months and not allow variants to turn into forms that may be resistant to the vaccine.

Thus far, all of the vaccines have proved as effective against any of the variants, though this week a limited study found that a variant discovered in Texas may be resistant to antibodies.

Cox said it is the widespread use of vaccines in Utah – he said at this point, 54% of Utahns have had at least one shot – that is keeping Utah from dealing with a third surge like other parts of the world, such as India. Health officials said without enough herd immunity, the potential is still there for the virus to mutate into something more resistant to vaccines.

“We are in a race to avoid this so we don’t have to do this again,” Cox said.  “If not for the incredible rate of vaccinations, we would be seeing a major third surge.”

Vaccines may be coming to you

While tempering his optimism, Cox still noted that more counties in the state moved into the “low” category this week on the COVID-19 Transmission Index, including Beaver County in Southern Utah. 

Map shows the current level of each county in Utah according to the COVID-19 Transmission Index provided by the Utah Department of Health as of April 29, 2021. | Photo courtesy Utah Department of Health, St. George News | Click to enlarge

For the first time, the majority of counties in the state are in the low category, which is the case for all of Southern Utah except for Washington and Iron counties, which remained in the moderate category this week, seeing the same plateauing of new infections with between 30 to 40 per day in Southern Utah according to the Southwest Utah Public Health Department. 

“We’ve been there a few weeks now. There’s just no telling how long (the plateauing) will last,” Heaton said, noting that most importantly local hospitalizations remain low – in the single-digits.

Along with the plateauing in new infections, the number of people getting vaccinations is also plateauing, as both Heaton and state officials have seen an overall reduction in those getting vaccinated in Southern Utah. 

As far as the state is concerned, Cox said it is at the point now where supply is now outweighing demand and said it might be inevitable that some of the supply spoils after going unused. 

With that, the state is moving toward moving away from the appointment-only model to more of walk-in vaccinations. Heaton said the local health district, while still planning to keep its appointment system over the next few weeks, is moving in that direction as well. 

Heaton said the local health district is already downsizing their vaccine clinics from larger facilities like the senior center in St. George back to their offices in St. George and Cedar City.

Cox also announced Thursday that vaccines are going to be made available for primary doctors to give their patients and he is also ending the order that each heath district has to use up all of its vaccine supply on the week they get it.

Cox is also giving businesses, organizations and churches the ability to hold vaccination drives with mobile vaccine trucks similar to those used by companies to hold parking lot blood drives. 

“We will come to you,” Cox said. 

Companies, organizations and religious institutions can have a mobile vaccination clinic come to their campus free of charge by going to this link. Separately, the Southwest Utah Public Health Department is also providing mobile vaccinations for organizations with 30 or more people by calling 435-673-3528.

Getting the COVID-19 vaccine

  • Those who can currently get first dose of the vaccine: Everyone ages 16 and over. Those 16-18 can only receive the Pfizer vaccine. Use to find clinics that have the Pfizer vaccine.
  • Those who can receive the second dose: Those who received their first injection 28 days or more before the appointment time.
  • Must register in advance online for an appointment time, though some pharmacies are offering walk-up appointments.
  • Must have a personal ID and wear a short-sleeve shirt at appointment.
  • Proof of residency may be required, though a person does not have to reside in the county they are receiving the vaccine. Part-time residents can get vaccinated with proof of residency.
  • Vaccines are free of charge.
  • Those without email addresses or unable to make reservations online can get help at a specialized hotline at 435-986-2549.
  • To get alerts for when new vaccine appointments are added with the Southwest Utah Public Health Department, text SWUHEALTH to 888777.
  • To receive a free ride to and from a vaccine appointment through Lyft, call 211.
  • Busineses, organizations and religious institutions can have a mobile vaccination clinic come to their campus free of charge by going to either this link or call the Southwest Utah Public Health Department at (435) 673-3528.

Washington County:

Where: Southwest Utah Public Health Department St. George office, 620 S. 400 East, St George

Reservations: Click to register 

Iron County:

Where: Southwest Utah Public Health Department Cedar City office, 260 DL Sargent Dr., Cedar City, 84721.

Reservations: Click to register 

Kane County:

Where: Southwest Utah Public Health Department Kanab office, 445 N. Main St., Kanab.

Reservations: Click to register 

Garfield County:

Where: Southwest Utah Public Health Department Panguitch office, 601 Center St., Panguitch.

Reservations: Click to register

Beaver County:

Where: Southwest Utah Public Health Department Beaver Office,  75 1175 North, Beaver.

Reservations: Click to register

St. George Regional Hospital/Intermountain Healthcare:

Where: 400 East Campus St. George Regional Hospital,  544 S. 400 East, St. George.

Reservations: Click to register

FourPoints Health:

Where: Various locations.

Reservations: Click to register

Revere Health:

Where: Revere Health Campus,  2825 E. Mall Drive, St. George.

Reservations: Click to register

Rocky Vista University:

Where: Rocky Vista University – Southern Utah Campus,  255 E. Center St. in Ivins.

Reservations: Click to register


Where: 745 N Dixie Dr in St. George and 915 Red Cliffs Dr. in Washington City.

Reservations: Click to register


Where: 1189 E. 700 South in St. George and 3520 Pioneer Parkway in Santa Clara.

Reservations: Click to register

Lin’s Marketpace:

Where: 1930 W. Sunset Blvd.  and 2928 E. Mall Drive in St. George, 1120 State St. in Hurricane and 150 N Main St. in Cedar City.

Reservations: Click to register

Smith’s Food and Drug:

Where: 20 N. Bluff St. and 565 S. Mall Drive in St. George and 633 S. Main St. in Cedar City.

Reservations: Click to register


Where: 625 W. Telegraph St. in Washington City, 180 N. 3400 West in Hurricane and 1330 S. Providence Center Dr. in Cedar City.

Reservations: Click to register

Family pharmacies:

Where: Several locations

Reservations: Use to find a location near you

COVID-19 information resources

St. George News has made every effort to ensure the information in this story is accurate at the time it was written. However, as the situation and science surrounding the coronavirus continues to evolve, it’s possible that some data has changed.

Check the resources below for up-to-date information and resources.


Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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