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Utah opens door for remote learning, suspends Test to Stay protocols

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah officials announced on Thursday that they are allowing K-12 schools to temporarily shift online. The Legislature had previously banned public schools from going remote for more than one day per week.

In a letter on Thursday, Utah Governor Spencer Cox, along with state schools superintendent Dr. Sydnee Dickson, House Speaker Brad Wilson, and Senate President J. Stuart Adams also announced they are recommending ending the Test to Stay requirement for public schools.

“Given the unique characteristics of the Omicron variant, the availability of vaccinations, and developing guidance from health authorities, it is necessary to step back from test-to-stay programs, allowing the Utah Department of Health to devote its testing resources to congregate-care facilities, long term care facilities, and community testing sites,” the letter said, according to Fox13.

Speaker Wilson told reporters in a press conference that the move gives schools “the discretion over the next two weeks to go to remote learning.” He said the program is “not working with omicron,” citing that it was initially designed for early intervention.

The Utah Education Association (UEA) endorsed the move to allow remote learning but chose to not comment on ending Test to Stay.

“We appreciate Governor Cox, legislative leadership and Superintendent Dickson approving a temporary remote learning exemption to allow this option for school districts. The “close-to-stay-open” strategy only works, however, if the entire community is committed to reducing the number of COVID cases by following the recommendations of our health experts,” UEA said in a statement.

“The best way to address these issues is to slow the spread of the virus in our communities by following the recommendations given by the medical experts at the state and county health departments,” UEA said. They also mentioned their support for the current public indoor mask mandates in place in Salt Lake and Summit counties.

The legislative session in Salt Lake City begins next week, and UEA spokesman Michael Kelley said they plan to pass something to replace Test to Stay. Kelley described Thursday’s move as a “stopgap” until they can pass something in the coming weeks.

“We’ve maxed out our ability to identify cases,” Dr. Angela Dunn, director of the Salt Lake County Health Department, said during the Salt Lake County Council meeting on Tuesday. “So as we start seeing a potential plateau in our cases, it’s not due to spread, it’s due to the limited ability to test. We are turning people away from our testing sites.”

One source told TownLift on Thursday that they waited roughly 3 hours in line to get a COVID-19 test at the Summit County testing hub in Richardson Flat. They said about 20 cars were forced to go home without a test.

“We can’t determine an absolute statewide capacity,” Utah Department of Health spokesman Tom Hudachko told the Salt Lake Tribune (SLT). “But … there is some indication we may have reached our capacity, or are close to it.”

“Undoubtedly, there are more cases than we are currently capturing due to both at-home tests and people who are unable or unwilling to be tested,” he told the SLT.

Under state law, Test to Stay is implemented when:

  • Schools with 1,500 or more students have 2% of their students test positive for COVID-19
  • Schools with fewer than 1,500 students have 30 students test positive for COVID-19

When Test to Stay is triggered, students must be tested. Those who test negative and show no symptoms can continue in-person learning, while those that are positive must go home and isolate.

According to the most recent data on the Park City School District’s (PCSD) COVID-19 dashboard, Park City High School, Treasure Mountain Junior High, and Ecker Hill Middle School currently fall under the protocols.

Park City High and Treasure Mountain both have a COVID-19 confirmed case percentage over 10%. Ecker Hill’s is at 9.22%

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