Health officers on Wednesday told Natrona County School District trustees to urge students to wear face masks when classes resume in the fall as a way to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

"We all have the same goal -- to keep the kids in school," Chief Natrona County Health Officer Dr. Mark Dowell said during a work session live-streamed on the district's YouTube channel.

"We know masks help," Dowell said.

At the beginning of the work session, Superintendent Mike Jennings recounted the district's guidelines for reopening the schools for students; personnel; teachers; and operations employees including those in food service, maintenance, custodial and transportation. The guidelines include checking temperatures before leaving home, staying home if symptomatic, practicing hygiene, limiting groups with athletics and other activities, and social distancing.

However, Natrona County Health Officer Dr. Ghazi Ghanem said that social distancing is not possible in schools, so masks become that much more important to slow the spread of the disease.

Ghanem knows it's hard for children to wear masks, he said. "But if we don't take that extra step, we're risking a major failure."

Other countries with a culture of wearing masks don't have the infection rates seen in the United States, he said.

Dowell suggested the district conduct an educational campaign for the parents how to check their children, and for the students to get creative such as designing masks for their own classrooms and schools to encourage wearing them. "That's our biggest ticket to stay open."

Trustee Debbie McCullar expressed skepticism about masks in part because the information about COVID-19 seems to change every week.

Dowell responded that the changes are the result of new information and the need for more tests and data, adding that some of the most successful countries in slowing the spread of the disease are in Scandinavia where children were taught that it's fun to wash their hands.

Children are less likely to die from the disease, but the risk with them is that they can transmit the disease to their parents and other family members.

Trustee Clark Jensen said that it seems that the spread is inevitable.

Dowell responded that the goal of health officials is to slow the spread as much as possible.

In the first 99 days of the pandemic, 1 million Americans tested positive, he said. The next 1 million tested positive in 33 days, and the next 1 million after that tested positive in 28 days.

Wyoming has been relatively sheltered, Dowell said.

In Texas, Arizona and Florida, the infection rates have skyrocketed. The new COVID-19 cases have overwhelmed hospitals. Ghanem said that in turn has made it that much more difficult if not impossible for people having heart attacks, strokes and other life-threatening health issues to receive care.

Trustee Keith Christopherson also was skeptical about the numbers and the infection risks.

Dowell pointed to the consequences in Uinta County where people didn't practice social distancing and wear masks: "One bar, one evening, one dance floor, 130 cases. Shut down two medical facilities."

The public and the school district can't afford to take the risks for the disease to spread, he and Ghanem said, adding they are responsible for the public health.

"This [masks on children] isn't a big deal," Dowell said. "It's a small thing to do to keep the schools open. That's all we're saying."

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