As public health officials attempt to sort out how exactly kids can safely return to school in the fall with new coronavirus cases causing concern, a group of parents in Utah quite literally rejected their state's guidelines. Earlier this week, Utah County Commissioner Tanner Ainge decided to suspend a public hearing as it was happening after several parents protested a mask mandate for kids in schools as they yelled, booed, and sat elbow-to-elbow in a small room with very few people wearing masks themselves.
Last week, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert announced that schools across the state would be reopening in August for students from kindergarten to grade 12 and face masks would be required for all students, staff, and visitors, according to the Salt Lake City Tribune. "Masks will be provided for all of our students, so that they will have access to face coverings when they come to school," Herbert said, according to the newspaper.
This news caused an uproar in Provo, Utah, a city about 45 minutes south of Salt Lake City, where dozens of parents packed a public hearing on Wednesday to discuss a letter Utah County Commissioner Bill Lee had written to Herbert asking him to reconsider the face mask mandate for students, according to KUTV. Things got out of hand quickly, with many people refusing to wear face masks and sitting elbow-to-elbow rather than following safe physical distancing guidelines to attend the meeting.
A video of the meeting shared by NBC News showed a packed room with some holding up signs reading "No Masks." And true to the sign, there were almost no masks worn, despite the fact that Utah continues to see a rise in confirmed cases of COVID-19, with a total of more than 31,000 testing positive to date and 234 deaths, according to the state's coronavirus website, and despite medical advice to wearing a simple face mask can help stop the spread of the virus.
Earlier this week, as Axios reported, CDC Director Dr. Robert R. Redfield said in a press briefing that "if we could get everybody to wear a mask right now, I think in four, six, eight weeks we could bring this epidemic under control."
"We are not defenseless against COVID-19," Redfield said in a CDC press release. "Cloth face coverings are one of the most powerful weapons we have to slow and stop the spread of the virus — particularly when used universally within a community setting. All Americans have a responsibility to protect themselves, their families, and their communities."
At Wednesday's public hearing in Provo, Ainge told attendees sitting close to each other, mostly unmasked, that "this is the exact opposite of what we need to be doing."
"We are supposed to be physically distancing, wearing masks," Ainge said. "All of our medical experts, our department of health, everyone is encouraging us to do that. This room is not complying with these health guidelines."
Ainge decided to suspend the meeting due to that lack of compliance. Parents booed the decision, with one woman named Denna Robertson telling ABC News, "I think it's totally wrong. I think it's a political hoax, and I am against masks."
Not every person at the protest was against masks, however. A former teacher named Tina Cannon told ABC News she supports face masks in classrooms. "Since when do we have a constitutional right to put other lives in danger? We can’t smoke in public places — because it puts other people’s lives in danger," Cannon told the news outlet.
As protesters filled an enclosed space without face masks and sitting far too close to each other, the number of coronavirus cases in the state continue to rise.
If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all of Romper’s parents + coronavirus coverage here.