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Healthcare officials urge Utahns to continue to mask

A graphic shows the risk of infection depending on mask-wearing. If both people are unmasked, there is a high risk. If the person with COVID wears a mask and the other doesn't, there is medium risk. If both people wear masks, there is low risk.
Grand State Valley State University
Grand State Valley State University
Mask Diagram displaying effectivness from high to low risk of transmissibility

Amid the COVID surge, Summit and Salt Lake County passed new mask mandates, but Monday Governor Cox exempted state-run facilities from requiring them. This mask exemption, although with intent to emphasize vaccinations and boosters as the most effective way to reduce the spread of COVID, has sparked concern for many Healthcare physicians and workers.

Regardless of his action, many healthcare workers and physicians urge people to continue to mask.

Dr. Tarama Sheffield, Medical Director for preventive medicine at Intermountain Healthcare and trained in public health, speaks about how in addition to reducing the spread of the highly infectious COVID strain, masking helps fight other airborne infections.

“It's an extraordinarily effective strategy for reducing disease and that's where you saw all of our respiratory illnesses last winter dropped out. We had no respiratory syncytial virus, we had no influenza. Masking and social distancing got rid of it," Sheffield said. "But as soon as . . . we stopped masking, we had the highest outbreak of respiratory syncytial virus we've ever had. . . . Influenza is coming back and coming back quickly.”

According to a study recently conducted by French scientists, omicron is predicted to be at least twice as transmissible as Delta.

Estee Hunt, Public Information Officer at Bear River Health Department, advises people to continue masking in light of how highly transmissible omicron is: “It’s so infectious . . . if you're sitting on a bench by somebody and neither of you have masks on, and that one person ends up getting COVID or had COVID, you're much more likely to get this now.”

While many Utahns remain vigilant to prevent the spread of not just COVID but other infections, Hunt leaves Utahns with another piece of advice: “Regardless of whether you test positive, or you've even tested negative, but you're symptomatic . . . the best thing we can do right now is to stay home, if we’re sick. We can stay home, when we're sick, we can help stop the spread of this. Because oftentimes, when you're doing a rapid COVID test, you may actually have a false negative. And at that point, you should still be home.”

Colleen Meidt is a science reporter at UPR as well as a PhD student at Utah State University. She studies native bees in the Mojave Desert and is particularly interested studying the conservation status of the Mojave Poppy Bee. In her free time, Colleen enjoys photography and rock climbing in the canyons.