UPDATED: State ends school mask mandate statewide as COVID-19 vaccine opens up for kids

Stock photo. | Photo by Drazen Zigic, iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — A few days after the Washington County School District unilaterally decided to no longer enforce the state’s mask mandate for schools, Gov. Spencer Cox announced that Utah is lifting that mandate for the rest of the state’s school districts for the last week of their school years.

Gov. Spencer Cox gestures with his mask, predicting that he would no longer need to wear one on July 4 as he spoke during a press conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Feb. 25, 2021 | Screenshot from Gov. Spencer Cox Facebook page, St. George News

The move comes as the COVID-19 vaccine has become available for children ages 12 and up.

For those who have already been vaccinated, the Centers for Disease Control announced new guidance Thursday afternoon that those who are fully vaccinated no longer need to wear masks or practice social distancing indoors or outdoors.

Last Friday, the Washington County School District’s board told its teachers and staff that it would no longer be enforcing the school mask mandate that had still been in effect even after the state’s overall mask mandate ended on April 11.

Cox said at his weekly COVID-19 press conference at the State Capitol that he and his team were actually considering the action a month ago before the district made its move.

“This is something I talked about to my team a month and a half ago,” Cox said. “There are a lot of people who really want the kids to have time with their teachers. Kids who haven’t seen their teachers’ and friends’ faces.  And cases have been going down.”

Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson reiterated that the state was not acting in response to the move in Washington County. 

“ I don’t know there was any school district that accelerated this,” Henderson said. “We recognize some parents aren’t happy with the mandate.”

The order was reissued by then-Gov. Gary Herbert July 17 as a way to have K-12 students be able to attend classes in person. That order was renewed as recently as May 4.

A sign requiring face masks seen at the entrance to Snow Canyon High School on May 7, 2020. St. George, Utah | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Cox said he’s heard from school district leaders for some time about lifting the school mandate. That’s something that Steve Dunham, spokesperson for the Washington County Unified School District, confirmed to St. George News. 

“He’s accurate in that superintendents have been talking to him about this for some time. Our move was just independent and trying to do what was best for our community based upon our own data and considering the rest of the state mandates had been lifted on Tuesday, May 4th,” Dunham said, adding that when the Washington County district made its move last Friday, it shouldn’t have been a surprise in the governor’s office. 

“We did reach out to the state health department and the governor’s office to let them know that we would be doing this before we announced it to parents and employees,” Dunham said. “They were aware that we were going to be moving forward with this.”

Cox cited dwindling numbers in school districts statewide – something evidenced by Southern Utah. As of Thursday, the Utah Department of Health said there were six active COVID-19 cases each among staff and students in the Washington and Iron county school districts, fewer than five in Beaver County and Southern Utah charter schools and none in Kane and Garfield counties. 

But in light of some reports of bullying of teachers and students who chose to keep their masks on, Cox cautioned about abuses to those who choose to continue to take preventative measures against COVID-19.

“Masks are still encouraged, and I would ask that parents, students and teachers be respectful of those who decide they want to wear masks,” Cox said. “And those who choose not to, we recognize that as well.”

Dr. Michelle Hofmann, deputy director of the Utah Department of Health, speaks during a press conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, on May 13, 2021 | Screenshot from Gov. Spencer Cox Facebook page, St. George News

Dr. Michelle Hofmann, deputy director of the Utah Department of Health, has taken the place of departed state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn as the medical spokesperson in the press briefings. However, unlike Dunn, Hofmann is not an epidemiologist but a pediatrician – which still came in handy in regard to discussing the school mask move. Also coming in handy toward understanding the struggle for families: she’s a mother to two school-age children. 

Hofmann said she told her 17-year-old boy and 15-year-old girl about the pending move Wednesday night.

“My son said, ‘I’m fully immune, but I’m still going to wear my mask.’ My daughter, who’s not vaccinated yet, said ‘I’m uncomfortable’ and didn’t want to go back to school.” 

And in her own medical opinion as a children’s doctor, Hofmann indicated that she would prefer that the kids keep their masks on even without the mandate. 

“This is a really challenging subject as a pediatrician but I would encourage every parent  to have their kids still wear a mask and I would encourage every parent to still wear a mask.”

That said, after the state press conference, a move by the CDC showed the constantly changing nature of dealing with COVID-19.

The CDC released new guidance for those who have been fully vaccinated that said if someone has been fully inoculated against the virus, the time has come where they can truly just about throw away the mask and go back to the way things were before the pandemic began. 

Those who have received either both shots of most vaccines or the single shot of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine no longer need to wear masks indoors or outdoors and no longer need to practice physical distancing.

For those who are vaccinated, the time to return to normal has come.

The CDC cites three new studies that have shown such measures are no longer necessary for those fully inoculated, though the CDC still advises that those with compromised immune systems should consider keeping their masks on even if they’re vaccinated.

Many national retail outlets that have continued mandatory masks locally even after the state ended the mask mandate are likely to make adjustments to their policies in the coming days. Walmart and Kroger – the parent of Smith’s Marketplace – among others have said their policies are based on CDC guidance. 

Vaccines now available for those 12 and over

Another big change by the CDC that aids in the decision to end the school mask mandate: Kids from ages 12 on are now approved as of Wednesday to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. 

Stock photo.| Photo by
LanaStock/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

“I’m a pediatrician and the most exciting thing is the ability to vaccinate children and get their lives back to normal,” Hofmann said. “They’ve really suffered through the pandemic.”

The Utah Department of Health said 215,000 Utah children fall into the 12- to 15-year-old age group and 23,419 of them have been diagnosed with COVID-19 at some point. 

The one difficulty that may come into play and may even bring back the days of filled vaccine appointment slots is the Pfizer vaccine is less available than the similar mRNA-based Moderna vaccine, as the Pfizer vaccine requires storage in specialized freezers in extreme sub-zero temperatures.

The Southwest Utah Public Health Department, which has been staying strictly with the Moderna and Johnson and Johnson vaccines since February, will be holding Pfizer-specific clinics in each of the five local counties starting next week, with reservations available at this link

Beyond the health district, the best bets locally for the Pfizer vaccine are Walgreens locations, the Albertsons on Dixie Drive in St. George and the CVS Pharmacy in the St. George River Road Target.

Also, St. George Regional Hospital announced late Thursday that they now have Pfizer appointments available for those ages 12 and up.

Other local pharmacies may have the Pfizer vaccine in supply. The CDC’s vaccinecheck.org site allows people to look specifically for sites within 25 miles with the Pfizer or other specific vaccines in stock.

Update 7:00 p.m., The story has been updated with the note that St. George Regional Hospital also has Pfizer vaccine doses available for those ages 12 and up.

Getting the COVID-19 vaccine

  • Those who can currently get first dose of the vaccine: Everyone ages 12 and over. Those 12-18 can only receive the Pfizer vaccine. Use vaccinefinder.org 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 wear a short-sleeve shirt at appointment and should have a personal ID.
  • 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: 275 S River Rd. in St. George.

Reservations: Walk-ins available. Otherwise, click to register


Where: 2610 Pioneer Rd. in St. George, 625 W. Telegraph St. in Washington City, 180 N. 3400 West in Hurricane and 1330 S. Providence Center Dr. in Cedar City.

Reservations: Walk-ins available. Otherwise, click to register

Family pharmacies:

Where: Several locations

Reservations: Use vaccinefinder.org 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, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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