Asher Williams, 12, of Salt Lake City, gets a COVID-19 vaccination at Rose Park Elementary in Salt Lake City on Sept. 22.
(Laura Seitz, Deseret News )
SALT LAKE CITY — Going into this school year, state health officials expected a dramatic rise in COVID-19 among kids. While kids are getting sick with COVID-19, and some have been hospitalized, it’s not as many cases as projected.
One month ago, COVID-19 cases among school-aged children were three times higher than at the beginning of last school year. So, the projection for cases among kids was very high for September.
“We were in the midst of a significant surge at the beginning of this school year, and still are in the midst of that surge,” said Tom Hudachko, a Utah Department of Health spokesman.
The highly transmissible delta variant and little masking in schools added to the high projections.
Hudachko said the Utah Department of Health does a lot of data modeling to plan their COVID-19 response in the community.
“We know that models are always wrong,” Hudachko said. “No model is ever right. But, they are helpful.”
Their models for September projected anywhere between 16,000 and 60,000 potential COVID-19 cases among school-aged kids. The median was 39,000 cases, which is what the state of Utah coronavirus response team projected Aug. 31 on Twitter.
Fortunately, that number turned out lower: just over 9,200 September cases among kids ages 5-17. That’s a lot of sick kids, but far fewer than projected. So, there is guarded optimism.
“I don’t know that anybody is anywhere near close to being willing to declare victory,” Hudachko said. “But, certainly we’re moving in the right direction.”
Granite School District spokesman Ben Horsley said they track COVID-19 case numbers closely.
“Since we don’t have a ton of health expertise on that front, we were just kind of planning for a worst-case scenario,” said Ben Horsley.
The district saw the numbers rise early in September and then decline over the last two weeks.
“We’ve been pleasantly surprised,” Horsley said. “Being prepared for just about the worst-case scenario obviously makes sure that you’re prepared for any type of scenario.”
He said the district is hopeful the trend will continue, and that younger students will be eligible for the vaccine soon.
“We’re very pleasantly surprised that we’re not seeing more cases,” Horsley said. “(We’re) just kind of keeping our fingers crossed and being very cautiously optimistic.”
Vaccination rates vary among school kids across the state, just as they do with adults. Counties with the highest vaccination rates among adults, also have the highest rates among kids.