Utah public hearing on schools dismissed after angry parents pack room without masks

By IVAN PEREIRA, ABC NEWS

(PROVO, Utah) — Tensions flared at a public hearing in Utah over the state’s mask mandate for schoolchildren after several parents defied orders by packing the room without face coverings.

The parents, some of whom carried signs condemning face masks, failed to sit in the marked seats and booed at the Utah County officials Wednesday night. The hearing was held over a letter by Utah County Commissioner Bill Lee, which asked Gov. Gary Herbert to waive his requirement kindergarten to 12th grade students wear a mask when schools reopen.

Utah County Commissioner Tanner Ainge has opposed the letter citing safety for the students and admonished the crowd for blatantly putting everyone in the hearing room at risk by not wearing masks or socially distancing.

“This is the exact opposite of what we need to be doing,” Ainge told the crowd before he was booed.

The hearing, held in Provo, Utah, was postponed by a 2-1 vote, which triggered more boos and angry calls from the mask mandate’s opponents.

Herbert has called for schools to reopen in the fall, with local districts providing specific guidelines — including blended learning models. He issued a mandate earlier this month requiring kids and teachers to wear a mask while at school.

Utah has seen a jump in coronavirus cases over the last few weeks, with 21,639 new cases reported since June 1, according to the state’s health department. The state saw an average of 481 cases a day during that period, with some days seeing a record number of new cases. On July 9, 868 Utah residents contracted COVID-19, according to the health department.

As of July 16, there have been 234 deaths in the state due to the virus, the health department said.

Despite the rise in cases, some parents questioned the need for masks for their kids.

“I think it’s totally wrong. I think it’s a political hoax, and I am against masks,” Denna Robertson told Salt Lake City ABC affiliate KTVX.

Lee, who joined some of the opponents in a protest outside the meeting, said the state should have had more communication with communities before the mandate.

“There’s not enough that we understand. They’re sitting there going, ‘Wait a second. Wait a second, we should have more discussion,'” he told KTVX.

Some teachers and parents at the meeting, however, argued that the risks are too hard to ignore and that masks are needed to stop the spread of the virus.

“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,” Tina Cannon, a former teacher, asked one of the opponents during the hearing, according to KTVX.

Another teacher, who carried a sign that encouraged mask wearing, engaged with the dissenters.

“All I’m saying is, I’m trying to save my grandma’s life, and I’m a teacher,” he said.

Studies have shown that wearing a face covering greatly reduces the amount of transmission of COVID-19 in places where social distancing cannot be maintained. Herbert signed an executive order on July 10 that mandated face coverings for anyone entering a state property.

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