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Maricopa County health leaders say schools not ready to reopen Aug. 17

(Getty Images/George Frey)

PHOENIX — Maricopa County public health leaders said Wednesday classrooms will not be ready to reopen for in-person learning on Aug. 17.

Marcy Flanagan, the county’s public health executive director, said during a press briefing she’s not sure when it will be safe for schools to resume traditional classroom instruction.

“What’s important to us is to look at metrics that we identify and benchmarks in our community, and whether we’re meeting those benchmarks,” she said.

Gov. Doug Ducey on June 29 signed an executive order delaying the beginning of in-school instruction until at least Aug. 17 — a date he has referred to as aspirational.

The Arizona Department of Health Services is expected by Friday to release public health benchmarks and guidelines through which school districts may resume in-person education.

There’s no clear indication as to how or when these new benchmarks will be released since Ducey Spokesperson Patrick Ptak confirmed to KTAR News 92.3 FM the Republican governor will forego leading a press briefing this week.

Earlier this week, Flanagan told school superintendents they would have to close classrooms if COVID-19 cases rise following a premature reopening.

If that happened, “there will be completely distance learning that we’ll recommend,” she said.

“Then there will be a middle ground which is maybe a combination of distance learning and in-person learning.”

Flanagan added school superintendents are asking for more guidance, especially for “special accommodations needed for students who require one-on-one instruction or adaptive learning environments, and how to safely reenter our medically fragile students to on-campus learning.”

Maricopa County Medical Director Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine has her own recommendations for metrics she believes should guide reopening.

“The first is a decrease in the number of cases and/or the rate of cases per 100,000 persons,” Sunenshine said. “The second is a decline in the percentage of tests that are positive.”

She recommends 5% decline because she believes that would indicate “there is both enough testing happening in the community to ensure that everybody who wants a test can get one, as well as a reasonable level of community spread that is decreased from a severe outbreak level.”

Sunenshine also called for a threshold of at least two weeks of a downward trajectory of positive COVID-19 cases.

“That’s just to tell us this isn’t a one-off, this isn’t bouncing up and down, this it is really a sustained and stable rate,” Sunenshine said.

She added that the reopening of classrooms will depend on the preparedness of Arizona schools along with personal efforts to stop COVID-19.

On Monday, Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman expressed a similar opinion, saying it was “unlikely” Arizona schools would be able to resume in-person learning Aug. 17 due to the spread of coronavirus in the state.

For all articles, information and updates on the coronavirus from KTAR News, visit ktar.com/coronavirus.

Arizona open and hiring: If you’re looking for job openings, visit ktar.com/arizonahiring.

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