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Utah Secures 500,000 Face Masks in Anticipation of Reopening Schools

July 7, 2020 by Jacob Pederson

The Utah Board of Education has received a shipment of 500,000 face masks it plans to distribute to students and teachers as they return to school in the fall.

The collection of masks is the latest manifestation of Gov. Gary Herbert’s Masks for Every Utahn Program, which has distributed 1.1 million masks — free of charge — to citizens of the state since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in mid-February.

“More and more people are coming to the realization that the single easiest, most effective thing we can do to slow and stop the spread is to wear masks,” the governor said as he greeted the shipment bound for the state’s schools at Salt Lake International Airport.

Ben Hart, deputy director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, said the masks will be distributed to public and private K-12 schools across the state in time for their reopening in the fall.

Roughly half the cloth masks were donated by H.M. Cole, a custom clothing store, while the other half were donated by Cotopaxi, an outdoor gear company. 

Transportation was provided by Boeing, which deployed its Dreamlifter cargo plane, ordinarily used to ship components of the company’s 787 passenger jet, in cooperation with cargo carrier Atlas Air, UPS and Flexport, a freight forwarder.

Cloth masks are a powerful tool in preventing the spread of COVID-19 since they block respiratory droplets containing traces of the virus, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Masks are especially effective if everybody wears one.

Though Utah has one of the lowest COVID-19 mortality rates in the nation, state officials are proceeding cautiously as the next school year approaches.

In order to reopen, each school district and charter school is required to submit a plan to keep their students and faculty safe, including a requirement to wear masks, said Sydnee Dickson, Utah Superintendent of Public Education.

“We want these students to be able to go back to school in the fall,” Dickson said, “It’s so important for their academic wellbeing, their mental health, and their growth overall.”

The masks will be delivered to the State Board of Education within the next five days, and they will be distributed to various school districts with priority given to more vulnerable areas, Hart said.

“With this program, we recognize that there’s generally a higher demand for masks right now at a higher cost,” Hart said. “So we want to take care of the need out there and provide a mask to every student and staff member in the state.”

Though the initial effort focused on getting masks for K-12 schools, the governor’s office has also begun reaching out to the state’s colleges to assess their needs.

“Trying to get masks into classrooms so we can safely reopen schools is going to be a huge issue for everyone across the country, and in reality across the world,” Hart said. “So if we can help with that by providing masks where we know there’s a shortage, then it definitely helps schools get back to a more regular routine more quickly.”

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