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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Coronavirus patients are filling Utah hospitals’ intensive care units beyond capacity, officials with the state’s largest health care system said Friday.

About 90% of the COVID patients currently hospitalized were not vaccinated, said Dr. Eddie Stenehjem, an infectious diseases physician at Intermountain Healthcare, the Salt Lake Tribune reported.

The surge driven by the highly contagious delta variant is especially concerning as the new school year begins without a mask mandate for children who cannot yet be vaccinated, Stenehjem said.

“We will see transmission in schools with this incredibly transmissible delta variant. We will see cases go up in children, and some of those children will have severe disease, and those children will end up in our hospitals,” he said, the Deseret News reported.

There are no documented biological adverse reactions to masking children, he said, though he acknowledged some may not enjoy wearing them.

He worried that a return to school could mean not only educational outbreaks but also new cases in families as children spread it.

Utah law now prohibits school districts from imposing their own mask mandates, and the Republican-controlled Salt Lake County Council overturned the health department’s attempt to mandate them. The decision was cheered by anti-mask activists who packed the meeting Thursday.

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